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Wheezing in children: Could it be asthma?

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

Wheezing is a whistling sound made while 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, wheezing can be caused by a structural abnormality in the airways or an issue with the vocal cords.

Wheezing is also a classic sign of asthma — especially recurrent wheezing. In addition to wheezing, other signs and symptoms of asthma in a young child might include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Coughing at night, seasonally or after certain exposures, such as cold air or exercise
  • Wheezing or coughing that worsens during certain pollen seasons

A child's risk of asthma is higher if he or she has an allergic condition, such as eczema or a food allergy, or if there is a family history of asthma or allergic conditions.

If your child seems to have 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 happens. The details you provide will help the doctor determine what's causing your child's wheezing and whether treatment is needed.

Last updated: February 24th, 2017

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