Diagnosing asthma in small children is tricky

Marie Lovett's youngest Reco recognizes the garden at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston because he's been hospitalized here several times, diagnosed at the age of 2 with asthma.

"If he's playing, he'll have to stop sometimes and take a deep breath. And kind of get himself back together," says the Stone Mountain mom. "He's been in the hospital about 8 or 9 times, he's been in intensive care one time."

At WebMD, Dr. Hansa Bhargava, a medical editor and practicing pediatrician, says asthma can be tricky to diagnose in younger children like Reco.

And this is because viruses like rhinovirus or RSV or all the lovely viruses that we get colds from can actually irritate a child's lungs much more frequently than they do for adults," says Dr. Bhargava.

So wheezing, a key asthma symptom is pretty common in younger children who don't have asthma.

"A third of kids under 5 have a wheezing episode, but only 10 to 15 percent actually end up having asthma. So, most of those who have the wheezing episode will not progress to asthma," says Dr. Bhargava.

Dr. Bhargava says pediatricians typically look for repeated episodes of wheezing, or a family history of asthma or allergies.

"The other factors that can make us think of asthma is allergies to pollen, allergies to nuts, to milk and also eczema. These are the kids who are more likely to have asthma."

Pollen is one of Reco's triggers. Other children may be sensitive to exercise, cigarette smoke, air pollution, and even the summer storms.

"So I think the important thing to remember for parents is try to avoid those triggers, or at the very least, know about those triggers," Dr. Bhargava.

Marie Lovett has taught little Reco how to recognize the signs of an asthma attack.

"If he's feeling like he's in distress, he'll come to me and say, "Mommy, I need a treatment. Where's my treatment? And he'll do it himself, he knows how to hook it up, put the medicine in. And he knows that he's going to feel better