Feature Archive

When Your Child Has Asthma

Here's what you can do to control the wheezing and coughing.

WebMD Feature

May 8, 2000 -- When Deborah Marcom's son Trevor was 3, she spent an anxious week waiting for the results of a medical test. With a persistent cough, frequent bouts of flu, and a general lack of energy, doctors suspected the boy had cystic fibrosis. Instead, the diagnosis was asthma.

"I was so relieved to find out it was asthma," says the Sausalito, Calif., mother. Now 16, Trevor uses an inhaler twice a day, sings in a band, and plays on his school's baseball and basketball teams. Fortunately, with careful management, asthma can usually be controlled to the point where it has little impact on daily life. But the disease is difficult to diagnose in young children, and if left untreated it can lead to permanent respiratory damage.

Almost 5 million kids in the United States have asthma, and the figures are growing at an epidemic pace, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Between 1980 and 1994, asthma cases in children under 4 increased by a staggering 160%. Gary Rachelefsky, MD, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles and past president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI), says asthma in kids is one of the most critical public health issues today. It is considered the leading chronic illness in children -- but nobody is certain why the frequency of the disease is spiking.