by John Hunt, MD, FAAAAI
When a child with chronic respiratory symptoms gets diagnosed with asthma, often parents will think, “Finally, I know what is wrong!” Unfortunately, that’s a mistaken thought. Asthma is not a diagnosis. Although there is now a name attached, you still don’t yet know what is causing the respiratory problems.
This is important, so I will reiterate it: asthma is not a diagnosis. Rather, asthma is dysfunction in your child’s airways that can be caused by any one or more of several dozen very different potential causes. If your child has asthma, it is a reason to go searching for the underlying cause.
The causes of childhood asthma differ enormously. Importantly, in neonates, respiratory problems should not be called asthma. But asthma does start to appear in infants and preschool-aged children. Viruses are the number one, but not the only, culprit during these years.
In school-aged children, allergies take center stage as the number one cause of asthma, but those allergies could be due to all sorts of different things. And, to keep to our theme today, allergies are the number one cause, but not the only cause!
At any age, bacteria and parasitic infections can cause asthma, as can gastroesophageal reflux, as can smaller than normal airways, and an abnormal shape and floppiness of the airways. Heart problems and abnormal blood vessels can cause all sorts of wheezing. A foreign body can get in a child’s windpipe and cause asthma symptoms. Noises made in the nose and throat can mimic asthma almost perfectly. There are other causes as well, including stress, dry air inhalation (commonly the cause of exercise-induced asthma), and chlorine inhalation in swimming pools.
The treatments for these very different causes of a child’s asthma are, of course, very different, too. Your child is unique; so is his or her asthma.
Although most asthma is caused by viruses and allergies, it is best if you and your doctor think through all the other possibilities to make sure. Getting the right diagnosis requires that the parents learn about asthma, as the doctor is unlikely to get it right without the parents' help. The best way to get your child healthy and simultaneously save money is to seek the cause of asthma and treat it correctly.
To assist in this, I have written a book for parents called Your Child’s Asthma. It takes only 2-3 hours to read. It is a guide for parents that will help you best sort out what is contributing to your child’s asthma and help make you the best partner possible to assist your child’s doctor in his investigation and treatment considerations. This book will educate you and may open your eyes to factors you may not have realized will contribute to asthma.
There are lots of books that claim to provide the cure for asthma. However, once you realize that asthma is not a diagnosis in itself, but is actually caused by all sorts of different diseases, you will realize any claimed cure for asthma can only, at most, cure one of its many causes. Instead, we should think about seeking the cause of asthma in your child and then intervening to improve that condition.
Dr. John Hunt is a Pediatric Pulmonologist, Allergist & Immunologist. He is a member of Liberty HealthShare’s Physician Advisory Board.