Asthma in Toddlers: Symptoms and Treatment by Dr. Srikanta J T

7 min read

Written by Dr. Srikanta J T

Dr. Srikanta J T

Asthma in Toddlers

Asthma in toddlers is becoming an increasingly common condition partially due to factors such as increasing pollution levels and exposure to chemicals. For toddlers, asthma can be quite debilitating as it interferes with their normal routine and reduces their ability to live a carefree life. Frequent doctor visits, hospitalizations, and living a secluded life become a norm for toddlers with asthma, robbing them of their regular growth and development.

There are various triggers for asthma in toddlers. Most common among them include allergens such as pollen, dust, and vehicular smoke. Frequent exposure to respiratory infections also puts them at a higher risk for asthma. While there is no lifelong cure for this condition, careful monitoring, timely intervention, and following treatment protocols suggested by the pediatrician can help toddlers and their parents manage this condition well.

In This Article

5 Causes of Asthma in Toddlers

In toddlers, asthma can occur for various reasons. While allergens and pollutants are the chief causes, your toddler’s unique physiology also contributes to spurts in asthma, often leading to asthma attacks.Common causes of asthma in toddlers include:

1. Infections

Bacterial and viral infections in the respiratory tract of toddlers often cause them to catch colds and coughs, and they end up with congestion in the chest. This congestion, when left untreated, can trigger breathlessness, ultimately leading to asthma.

2. Pollution

The air is filled with pollutants such as industrial smoke, vehicular smoke, tobacco smoke, etc. All these pollutants increase the levels of chemical contaminants in the air. Toddlers who are sensitive to these contaminants end up suffering from asthma when exposed.

3. Allergies

Allergens are one of the most common triggers for asthma in toddlers. Dust, pollen, pet hair and dander, and molds can all cause asthma in toddlers.

4. Sudden Weather Changes

Experiencing sudden shifts in temperature or weather conditions can also trigger asthma.

5. Cleaning Agents

Certain household cleaning agents contain chemicals that can be harmful to babies and lead to asthma.

So, what are the unique conditions responsible for asthma in children in this age group? One or more of the factors mentioned above causes inflammation in the airways of toddlers. This inflammation narrows the breathing pipe, thereby causing labored breathing and triggering asthma.

Toddlers have an immature respiratory system which means that they have really small airways. As a result, even minor inflammation can result in breathing difficulties.

[Read: Wheezing in Toddlers]

Symptoms of Asthma in Toddlers

Toddlers having cough and fever

Most toddlers who suffer from asthma show symptoms of it before they turn 5 years old. For toddlers though, parents and even doctors may find it difficult to recognize whether the symptoms are due to asthma or not. The bronchial tubes in toddlers are already very small and narrow.

When they are ill with colds, coughs, and other illnesses, inflammation in the airways further narrows the airways, irritating the toddler, and sometimes, leaving them breathless. This may necessarily not be a case of asthma and only due to the sickness.

But since your little one is too young to express what they are going through, it becomes difficult for the adults to diagnose whether it is asthma or not. Some common symptoms of asthma in toddlers include:

  • Coughing that becomes severe during the night and early in the morning.
  • Wheezing or whistling sound when breathing out.
  • Trouble breathing or fast breathing causes the skin around the chest or neck to pull in tightly.
  • Gasping for air and shortness of breath.
  • Frequent chest colds.
  • Difficulty eating and drinking.
[Read : 10 Ways To Use Honey To Treat Cough And Cold In Children]

Diagnosing Asthma in Toddlers

doctor checking x ray of kid

In toddlers, diagnosing asthma can be a tricky proposition since the symptoms of asthma and other chest infections are similar due to the under-developed airways. Still, your toddler’s pediatrician will conduct the following examinations and tests to identify if your little one is suffering from asthma or some other infection.

  • Physical exam to check the throat, nose, and ears for signs of infection.
  • Chest examination to check for congestion and other disturbances.
  • Previous health history of the toddler.
  • Previous medical history of both parents to look for possible family history of asthma.
  • Chest X-ray to confirm conditions such as congestion and fluid formation.
  • Lung function test (spirometry) to check the lung capacity and breathing ability of your toddler.
  • Nitric oxide test in case the lung function test comes inconclusive.
  • Allergen tests to check for possible allergens that could be triggering asthma.

Treatment Options for Asthma in Toddlers

treating asthma in toddler

The treatment protocols for asthma will depend on factors such as the severity of asthma and related symptoms that your toddler is suffering from.

The two main modes of treatment are taken up by specialists to provide relief from the condition.

  • Quick-relief medications for temporary relief.
  • Long-term medications for controlling the condition.

1. Quick-Relief Medications

As the name suggests, the purpose of these medications is to reduce inflammation, release the airways and allow for better breathing, thereby reducing the severity of the asthma attack. These medications are known as short-acting bronchodilators. Parents must remember that these medications can provide relief for about 6 to 8 hours.

The symptoms can always show up after this time period. In effect, these medications provide relief and do not cure the condition. If you find that you have to use them frequently for your toddler, you may have to see the doctor for a more permanent solution.

2. Long-term Medications

Your toddler’s doctor will prescribe these medications for long-term use when your child has persistent asthma or gets severe attacks regularly. Long-term medication options include:

  • Corticosteroid inhalers
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Combination inhalers (corticosteroid+long acting beta-agonist or LABA)
  • Bronchodilator medications
  • Injectables are given every 4-6 weeks in case of severe asthma

The protocol is the final call of the doctor, and they will chart out the right combination taking into consideration the overall health and medication history of your little one. The doctor may also increase or decrease the dosage and the number of drugs depending on your toddler’s response and the recurrence of asthma attacks.

Risk Factors For Asthma in Toddlers

While we have seen the main causes of asthma in little ones, there are a few risk factors that can contribute to the condition too. Risk factors include;

  • Family history of asthma
  • Allergies
  • Frequent respiratory infections
  • Low birth weight and premature birth
  • Secondary exposure to cigarette smoke before and after birth
  • Low resistance

How Can I Help My Toddler Who Has Asthma?

mother checking her kids temperature

Along with medications and regular doctor visits, parents can take a few precautions to improve their toddler’s quality of life.

  • Keep your home clean and free of allergens. Deep cleaning your home at regular intervals can be of great help.
  • If you have pets, ensure that your home is free of pet hair and dander.
  • Maintain low levels of humidity at home. You can use dehumidifiers if needed after talking to your doctor.
  • You can also use an air conditioner to maintain low levels of humidity and keep your toddler’s room free of allergens, pollution, and microbes.
  • Avoid using domestic cleaners containing chemicals. You can switch to natural cleaners and bio enzymes. This will include floor cleaners, surface cleaners, washing machine liquids, dishwasher liquids.
  • Use soaps and shampoos that have minimal detergent and chemical levels.
[Read : 10 Ways To Treat Cough And Cold In Babies And Kids With Ginger]

Home Remedies That Can Help Toddlers With Asthma

Causes of Asthma in Toddlers

While parents follow the treatment protocol suggested by the doctor, they can also incorporate a few dietary and lifestyle changes to help them and provide support through the treatment phase.

1. Dietary Changes

Having a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the first step towards health not only for those suffering from asthma but for normal toddlers as well. The key to fighting asthma is to reduce inflammation in the airways. One way of achieving this is by including foods rich in vitamin C, vitamin E, omega fatty acids, and beta-carotene.

2. Include Garlic and Ginger in Your Toddler’s Diet

Toddlers may not relish the pungent flavors of garlic, but the anti-inflammatory properties can be of great help in releasing the airways and reducing asthma. Ginger also has excellent anti-inflammatory properties and can soothe an irritated throat when you are suffering from a cough or cold.

3. Add Turmeric to Your Cooking

Turmeric is an excellent antibacterial and anti-allergenic. It can also reduce inflammations. If your little one is suffering from asthma due to allergies, adding turmeric can help reduce the occurrence of allergies, thereby reducing the frequency of allergies.

4. Weight Reduction

Obesity is one of the risk factors for asthma. If your toddler is overweight, you can talk to the doctor and a dietitian and work together to help your little one reduce weight.

5. Exercising

Having a healthy lifestyle is the first step to fighting asthma, and the first step towards a healthy lifestyle is exercising. Talk to your doctor about the exercises you can safely incorporate into your toddler’s routine.

6. Yoga and Meditation

Both these traditional Indian sciences have a deep root in helping your body normalize imbalances. The right yoga and meditation techniques train your body to breathe better and take control of conditions such as asthma.

Asthma in toddlers cannot be cured. Nevertheless, there are treatment options to provide relief from the condition and help your child tide through the asthma attacks. Constant doctor visits and changing treatment protocols are a constant in your life if you have a toddler with asthma. With a few precautions, lifestyle changes, and diligently following the doctor’s advice you can help your little one manage their condition well.

Read Also: Breathing Problems In Children – Causes And Symptoms

Dr. Srikanta J T, MBBS, Diploma in Child Health (DCH), Diplomate of National Board(DNB), Fellowship in Pediatric Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine(NUH, Singapore), Training in Interventional Pulmonology
Consultant - Paediatric Interventional Pulmonology, Allergy and Sleep Medicine, ASTER CMI Hospital
10 years of experience

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