Q. The doctor says my 12-month-old has asthma! Is this possible at his young age?
A. Sadly, yes. I have a number of asthmatic patients your child's age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.9 percent of children under the age of 4 have been diagnosed with it. In some urban areas, that percentage is even higher, probably due to pollution and other problems unique to city living.
Asthma is diagnosed in kids the same way it is in adults, after repeated episodes of wheezing that have no other explanation. Sometimes it can be more subtle: a frequent, dry nighttime cough or shortness of breath after exercise (or, in a toddler, after crawling, walking, or playing).
Luckily, there's a lot you can do to treat your child's asthma. Step one is to try to avoid whatever's bringing on his attacks. The most common culprits include dust mites, smoke, animal dander, and pollen. Talk to your doctor about how to minimize the triggers if you can't sidestep them completely.
Step two is medication. If your child has symptoms as frequently as twice a week, he'll probably need to take steroids daily through an inhaler. Since he's so young, using a breathing mask can make it easier for him to take them. This may sound scary, but don't worry -- by treating your child now, you can make sure he breathes easier.