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Wheezing in children: Could it be asthma?

My 11-month-old son has had several wheezing episodes recently. Does this mean he has asthma?

Not necessarily. Not all children who have wheezing episodes will develop asthma, and not all children who have asthma wheeze.

Wheezing is an often high-pitched whistling noise that occurs during breathing. Because a child's airways are so small, any lower respiratory infection such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can cause wheezing in children. Sometimes a choking episode causes wheezing. In other cases, factors such as a structural abnormality in the airways or an issue with the vocal cords contribute to wheezing in children.

Wheezing is also a classic sign of asthma especially wheezing that won't go away or keeps coming back. In addition to wheezing, other signs and symptoms of asthma in a young child may include:

  • Breathing that's louder or faster than normal
  • Chest tightness
  • Frequent coughing
  • Coughing that gets worse after active play

A child's risk of asthma is higher if he or she has an allergy, such as a food allergy or hay fever, or one or both parents have asthma, allergies or eczema.

If your child seems to be having breathing problems, talk to the doctor. Be prepared to describe your child's signs and symptoms, including when the wheezing began, what the wheezing sounds like and when it seems to happen. The details you provide will help the doctor determine what's causing your child's wheezing and whether treatment is needed.

Updated: 5/25/2011

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