Asthma Myths: Symptoms

I have a confession. I’m an asthma and allergy doc who almost missed this diagnosis with my own son.

My wife (an Emergency Room physician, no less!) and I couldn’t figure out why, for weeks, our 3-year-old son couldn’t shake a persistant cough. We listened to his chest with a stethescope many times but we never heard wheezing. Finally, we decided to treat him with albuterol, which is a reliever medicine that everyone with asthma should always have available. Albuterol provides rapid opening of the airways. Within 15 minutes, my son’s cough disappeared completely. He is now taking a daily controller medicine and has never been better.

That’s not to say every kid with a junky cough has asthma. But the more families that I meet who live with asthma, the more I learn how the symptoms of asthma can widely vary from child to child. There is much misinformation and many ‘myths’ out there as well. Many parents will tell me that their child does not have asthma since they are able to run and play without any problems. Or they never hear wheezing, and their child only coughs, which must mean they have something else as a cause of their symptoms. (Sounds familiar!) The video below was created to address some of the most common misconceptions about asthma. The underlying cause of asthma symptoms is the same for everyone with asthma, which is chronic inflammation and tightening of the muscles surrounding the lower airways inside the lungs. However, not everyone with asthma will have the same types or pattern of symptoms. Many children with asthma will only cough and never have any wheezing. Others will never cough but develop sudden onset wheezing, along with shortness of breath or respiratory distress and require emergency room care or even hospitalization.

Asthma is a very complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose and treat, especially in young children. My wife and I learned this lesson the hard way. My experience with my son is just one of the many reasons I work to spread awareness about the symptoms of asthma and help families learn to live with asthma. For the latest allergy/asthma news, tips and other information follow me on Twitter @AllergyKidsDoc.


David Stukus, MD
Dr. David Stukus is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Allergy and Immunology, at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Dr. Dave, as his patients call him, is passionate about increasing awareness for allergies and asthma. His personal life is filled with fun and chaos as he is married to a Pediatric Emergency Room physician and they have 2 energetic children. His rare free time is spent following his beloved Pittsburgh and Ohio State sports teams. Follow Dr. Dave on Twitter @AllergyKidsDoc for great allergy/asthma tips!

3 thoughts on “Asthma Myths: Symptoms

  1. Im looking all over internet, but not answer about this. I was diagnosed with asthma when I was a kid, but after many years I went for spirometry and first doctor said I was fine, next doctor found I have asthma. Now I found out that I have GERD also. I have almost all of asthma symptoms exept cough. I never have cough during my asthma attacks. Is possible to have asthma without cough??? Also befor my attacks I get some weird symptoms like dehydration, my lips are burn little bit and my eyes get tearing. Is that normal thank you…

    1. The symptoms for asthma are quite variable from one person to another and may or may not include coughing. Common triggers for asthma include GERD (stomach acid irritates the airways) as well as environmental and/or food allergies (which could cause face and/or eye symptoms). Your specific set of symptoms are not surprising for asthma, GERD, and allergies, but other diseases could also cause them. Therefore, it’s important to see a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. Hope that helps!-Dr. Mike Patrick

  2. I think is asthma, GERD, and allergies, because I get it also with changes of weather and after hot shower (perhaps mold). I plan to do an allergy test one of this days and I have to quit smoking…Thanks so much.

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