What Are the Signs of an Asthma Attack in Infants?

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Although it's difficult to diagnose, kids can get asthma too.
infants can't communicate they are having trouble breathing, it's up to
you to spot an attack and know what to do about it.

The most common signs of asthma in infants are:

  • Coughing, especially at night: This is actually a classic sign of asthma.
    It's often the only sign.

  • Night time wakenings: May be due to coughing and/or chest tightness

  • Wheezing: May be audible or silent

The following are signs your child's asthma might be getting worse, and immediate attention is necessary:

  • Rapid respiratory rate: Breathing is faster than normal

  • Trouble feeding:
    Or lack of desire to eat

  • Agitation/ crying: When babies can't breathe they get restless

  • Retractions: One great way to tell babies are having trouble breathing is if his chest is being sucked in with each inspiration. (watch video)

  • Nasal flaring: This is the flaring out of the nares upon inspiration. It is done in an attempt to suck in extra air. A classic sign of air hunger in babies. (watch video)

  • Grunting on expiration: This is the baby's natural attempt to keep his lungs open. Another classic sign of air hunger. (watch video)

  • Cyanosis: This is the blue discoloration of skin caused by lack of oxygen to that area. Usually it's around the mouth, nose and fingertips. This is a sign the baby is not getting enough oxygen.

Your asthmatic may display one or a combination of any of the above signs.
Each child is unique, and this is why it's important for you to be vigilant to the specific signs your child displays.

Once diagnosed with asthma, you and your child's pediatrician will want to create an [asthma action plan] tailored just for your child.
This plan will help you monitor your child's asthma, and know what to do in the event you see the above signs.

Most asthma experts recommend all asthmatics have a rescue medicine called Albuterol or Xopenex on hand at all times.
These are bronchodilators.
They relax the muscles surrounding the air passages in your asthmatic child's lungs, and can rapidly make breathing easier.

This medicine can be given to your child using a nebulizer
with a mask
or an inhaler with a spacer and a mask.
While a nebulizer is the most common method, more recent studies actually show an inhaler is the best method to use.
However, the truly best method is whichever one your child accepts (to learn more click here).

Usually two puffs of the medicine are given if an inhaler is used.
These puffs should be spaced one to two minutes apart.
If a nebulizer is used, the treatment usually lasts about 10 minutes.

Of course this depends on the severity and control level of your child's asthma, yet if your child's need for his rescue medicine is greater than normal, then you should notify his pediatrician or take him to the emergency room.
Increased use of rescue medicine
likewise a common sign of uncontrolled or worsening asthma.

If the signs of asthma go away after using the rescue medicine, you can simply monitor your child at home.
If the signs don't go away, you should continue to follow the asthma action plan, which may entail calling your child's doctor or taking your child to a local emergency room.

However, if your child is not yet diagnosed with asthma, and you do not have an asthma action plan, and you observe any of the above signs, you should call your child's pediatrician, take the child to an emergency room, or call 911.

Since your infant doesn't have a voice, it's up to you to observe the signs of trouble breathing. Vigilance in this way can prevent a child's asthma from getting worse, and may even save a life.

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).