Every parent wants their kids to be healthy, and some changes to their health can trigger an all-out panic of Googling their symptoms. Rather than starting your research after a symptom appears, start educating yourself now so you’ll know what to look for and how to react. To lend a hand, our board-certified pediatricians and nurse practitioners at Children’s Wellness Center are breaking down the differences between two similar issues: allergies and asthma. Read on to find out more about how to tell the difference between allergies and asthma in your kids.
Asthma vs. Allergies: The Basics
First, you’ll want to have a general understanding of asthma and allergies. Asthma is a condition of chronic airway inflammation. The condition is always there, but certain triggers will irritate the airways and cause them to constrict much more. These triggers depend on the child, but common ones include illness, exercise, certain allergens or weather conditions, pet hair and dander, and strong laughing or crying. When this happens to a severe degree, it’s called an asthma attack.
Allergies, on the other hand, happen when your child’s immune system overreacts to a usually harmless trigger. The immune response can produce respiratory issues and other symptoms, and like allergies, they can range from a minor annoyance to a severe and dangerous problem. Each child has specific allergens they react to, which often include pollen, pet hair and dander, certain foods, or specific medications.
In some kids, allergies and asthma go hand-in-hand. They may have both conditions, for instance, and an allergic reaction may aggravate their asthma symptoms.
Symptoms to Look For
Allergies and asthma are often confused because they can produce similar symptoms. They can also be triggered by the same thing. Here are a few ways to tell if your child’s symptoms are coming from asthma or allergies:
- Asthma produces only respiratory issues, like wheezing, coughing, chest congestion, and limited breathing. Allergies may have these symptoms but they often also come with a runny nose or nasal congestion, sneezing, and fatigue. Allergies can produce hives and skin irritation as well.
- Keep a journal of when your child’s problems are at their worst. Asthma symptoms tend to be worse at night. Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, often change from one season to the next. If breathing problems appear after exercise, laughing, or crying, asthma is the most likely culprit, while symptoms that appear after playing with a pet, eating a certain food, or being outside are more likely to be allergy-related.
- If you’re not sure if your child has environmental pediatric allergies or asthma, consider his/her age. Kids rarely develop environmental allergies before age two, so if your baby is wheezing or having trouble breathing, asthma is probably the issue.
- Analyze your family history. Asthma and some allergies tend to run in families, so your own medical history and your family’s history can offer some clues.
If You Suspect Asthma or Allergies
While the tips above can offer some hints, it’s very important to seek a medical diagnosis from a qualified healthcare provider. Asthma and allergies are quite similar and both can be extremely serious if they are not treated appropriately or if you don’t have the right medication available in an emergency. It’s great to come into the pediatrician’s office with an idea about what may be wrong, but getting a true diagnosis and treatment is crucial.
Our experienced pediatricians can typically diagnose asthma in the office. But kids with severe symptoms may be referred to a pediatric pulmonary specialist who can perform tests to measure lung function and evaluate their response to medications. For allergies, if there are certain allergens that you suspect, skin allergy tests and blood tests are strong diagnostic tools. In some cases, the best way to confirm a diagnosis is to treat one problem and see if it gets better. If this is the route your doctor recommends, just remember to pay close attention to your child’s symptoms to see if they improve.
Keeping your kids healthy involves a team effort between all their parents, caregivers, and doctors. As a parent, make sure your kids’ sitters, teachers, and other caregivers are observing your child as well and will let you know if they notice anything new or concerning. Both allergies and asthma can sometimes produce serious problems, but they can also be well-managed with the right treatment. If you think your kids may have allergies or asthma, schedule a pediatrician appointment to find the answer. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ as well for more kids health tips.