The Three Key Asthma Symptoms Every Parent Should Look For

Diagnosing asthma can be tricky. There is no simple test. Instead, evaluating three key symptoms newasthmapic_iStock_000010686472Mediumhelps doctors make a diagnosis, explains Dr. Stanley P. Galant, an asthma, allergy and immunology specialist at CHOC Children’s and the medical director of the CHOC Breathmobile.

Children experiencing cough, shortness of breath – especially during and after exercise or when suffering from a cold, and wheezing should be checked for asthma.

“Asthma is a condition associated with a chronic or intermittent cough that generally comes on in the middle of the night and with exercise,” says Dr. Galant. “One big clue to help diagnose asthma versus another condition or illness has to do with this chronic cough. A diagnosis of asthma is suggested when the cough responds well to medication that opens the airways and dilates the bronchial tubes.”

Asthma symptoms can be triggered by environmental factors, like second-hand smoke, and allergens. In fact, children with asthma—roughly 70 percent—have allergies, which play a big role in diagnosing and controlling the condition.

If a child has persistent asthma – roughly defined as trouble more than twice a week during the day in terms of coughing and wheezing and trouble more than twice a month at night, the child should have skin testing or blood testing for allergies. Allergy testing helps pinpoint triggers for asthma so families can make changes at home to reduce or eliminate them.

Avoiding triggers is a key factor to managing asthma. Second is medication. Allergy shots can also be helpful in certain patients. Parents should discuss the appropriate options with their child’s physician.

Learn more about allergy and immunology services at CHOC.

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Kids and Asthma

girl with bubbles DIAGNOSING ASTHMA

There’s no single test for asthma, so it can be hard to diagnose the condition in a young child, says Dr. Galant, CHOC’s Asthma, Allergy and Immunology specialist, noting that symptoms are sometimes mistaken for another illness. “The most important diagnostic findings include a chronic or intermittent cough that comes on in the middle of the night and after exercise,” Dr. Galant says. “These kids also have wheezing and they respond to a bronchodilator, which opens the airways and stops the symptoms.” In addition, children with asthma often have allergies, eczema or a family history of asthma, says Dr. Galant.


Effective treatment requires a comprehensive approach and it’s best to have a written treatment action plan, Dr. Galant says.  Treatment can include regular medications and regular checks for lung and breathing function, as well as written instructions for when the child needs “rescue” medications and when to call the doctor. “We want to have few symptoms, no  hospitalizations or emergency room visits and little use of the bronchodilator,” says Dr. Galant. Highly allergic patients may also benefit from allergy shots to help reduce sensitivity to allergens.


Since asthma is often due to an allergic response, children with asthma should also be tested for allergies to help identify allergens that can trigger an asthma attack, says Dr. Galant. “There are allergens and non-allergen triggers. Children can be allergic to foods as well as indoor allergens like dust, and cats. Nonallergic triggers include the common cold virus and environmental tobacco smoke,” he says. Knowing a child’s allergic triggers can help the family make changes at home to minimize the child’s exposure to allergens and avoid asthma triggers.


Your child should be checked for  asthma if he or she experiences the  following symptoms:

  • Chronic or persistent coughing at night
  • Coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath during or after exercise
  • Wheezing


  • Approximate number of children in the United States who die from asthma each year: 200
  • Percentage of children nationwide with asthma: 10 – 12 %
  • Percentage of underserved, inner-city elementary school-aged children in Orange County with asthma: 20 – 30 %

View the full feature on Kids and Asthma

Dr. Galant
Dr. Stanley Galant
CHOC Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Specialist


Dr. Galant is the medical director of CHOC Children’s Breathmobile, CHOC’s mobile asthma treatment van. He is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UC Irvine and is the former director of pediatric allergy and immunology at UCI.

Dr. Galant did pediatric residencies at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital and the UC San Francisco Medical Center. He had a fellowship in allergy/immunology at UCSF and was a medical fellow with the UCSF Medical Center’s pediatric radiology department and Cardiovascular Research Institute. The Hospital Association of Southern California named Dr. Galant a 2007 “Hospital Hero” for bringing the Breathmobile to Orange County.

Dr. Galant’s philosophy of care: “Our program is unique and provides access to preventative asthma care. To treat our patients satisfactorily and manage a chronic disease like asthma, we build trust and bonds with our patients.”

University of California Medical School, San Francisco

Pediatrics Allergy/Immunology

More about Dr. Galant

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on January 7, 2014 and was written by Amy Bentley.

Allowing Your Child to Play Sports with Asthma

girl_soccerballYour 7-year-old son loves baseball and can’t wait to join the local Little League team. Your daughter is a big soccer fan and all her fourth-grade friends play soccer after school, so she wants to play soccer also. Both kids have asthma. What to do?

Just because your children have asthma does not mean they can’t participate in any sports or physical activities, says Dr. Stanley Galant, an asthma specialist and medical director of CHOC Breathmobile.

“I encourage every child to exercise. If you control the asthma you have less of a chance of a problem,” he says. “It’s very important for asthmatic kids to stay competitive. It’s important for the families and their providers to create a situation that allows them to participate.”

“First of all, exercise is very important for lung development. It’s important to take a deep breath, and exercise makes you take a deep breath. On the other hand, asthma is a known trigger for having a shortness of breath, or coughing or wheezing. The symptoms frequently occur after you stop exercising.”

Young athletes participating in sports can take some steps to minimize or avoid asthma trouble, according to Dr. Galant. He said children should warm up first with some “energy bursts” like sprints and other short exercises. They could also use their albuterol inhaler about 15 minutes before exercising to help prevent an attack caused by exercise if necessary.

If it’s a cold day, athletes with asthma should wear a mask to prevent the cold, dry air from getting into their lungs, Dr. Galant advised. “Swimming is the best exercise for asthmatic kids. Running is the hardest, particular in dry cold air,” he notes.

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