Asthma Signs

Most people don't realize it but some kids with asthma cough instead of wheezing. Those that cough during exercise should be checked for asthma.

Question

Is it possible for a child to have asthma without wheezing? My 4-year-old coughs a lot during exercise. He does have nasal allergies and his dad has asthma.

Dr. Greene's Answer

Most people don’t realize it but some kids with asthma cough instead of wheezing (called cough-variant asthma). Those that cough during exercise should be checked for asthma, especially if there is asthma in the family.

There are a variety of different ways to check for asthma. Asthma is defined as repeated airway narrowing. When the airways are narrow, this can be measured by having the child breathe into a tube called a peak flow meter or by having the child breath into a larger machine, called a spirometer. If there is no narrowing at the time, they might have the child exercise to try to reproduce it. There are higher-tech tests available if there is still a question.

Children can continue any sport or exercise activity even when diagnosed with asthma, so long as they are properly treated. Exercise is great for kids with asthma, and if the asthma is properly treated, it will usually not interfere at all with performance. In fact, many Olympians have asthma.

Last medical review on: March 02, 2015
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Is it possible to have asthma symptoms only when very upset instead of exercise-induced asthma? I ask because our 7 year-old son seems to sort of hyperventilate when he cries hard for too long and it leads to him being air-starved, like he cannot get enough air on inhale. He looks as if he cannot breath properly and it’s a bit scary for him and us. If he calms down he’ll have the staggered inhale still but he slowly returns to normal breathing. It only happens when he gets upset though. Could that be a sign of asthma?