Although wheezing and difficulty breathing are telltale signs of asthma, they aren’t the only indicator that the ailment is brewing. Patients, including kids with the condition, may find themselves struggling to get over colds much longer than their peers or catching more of them.
That’s why sorting out whether a patient is dealing with asthma can take “a little bit of detective work,” says Anastassios Koumbourlis, chief of the divisions of pulmonary and sleep medicine at Children’s National Health System.
Asthma, which is essentially an inflammation and narrowing of the airways, affects roughly 25 million Americans, including more than 6 million children. It’s the leading chronic condition in kids and the top reason for missing school, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The Virginia Department of Health reports that there were more than 7,500 hospital admissions around the state in 2014 that primarily resulted from asthma.
Several types of medications may be prescribed if asthma is diagnosed, including long-term steroids used to help reduce inflammation and short-acting drugs that relax the airway muscles in the event of an acute attack. Certain prophylactic medications can also be used to help prevent inflammation in the first place.
“You end up using a lot of times all three classes of the medications, though how exactly you use them differs,” says Koumbourlis. “You can use a special algorithm and depending on the severity you can add medication, or if somebody has a big problem the first time you see them, you throw everything at them and you try to clean them up and then cut back to see what exactly they need to remain healthy.”
A portion of kids who contract mild or moderate asthma in childhood may find that their condition improves over time. Many become asymptomatic as adults, though others must contend with the effects of the disease for a lifetime.