My 11-month-old son has had several wheezing episodes recently. Does this mean he has asthma?

Answers from Jay L. Hoecker, M.D.

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 during 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, factors such as a structural abnormality in the airways or an issue with the vocal cords contribute to wheezing in children.

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:

  • Recurrent difficulty breathing
  • Recurrent chest tightness
  • Frequent coughing
  • Coughing that gets worse after active play or changes in the weather

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

Mar. 04, 2014