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Editor’s blog: When your child starts wheezing

This is a tale of parental intuition, partial neglect, and of hoping against hope that something is not the way you know in your gut it is.

Our 8-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with asthma, or reactive airway disease, or whatever you want to call it. Actually, we are still in the process of defining it so we can come up with a plan to treat it. (In case any insurance companies are reading this, it’s NOT an official diagnosis).

The beginning of asthmatic signs

The first time I noticed some wheezing was maybe eight months or so ago. She had been running around in the cold. I made a mental note but said nothing. I noticed it once at a gymnastics studio, again on a bitter cold day, but chalked it up to chalk particles in the air. I noticed it a couple more times with cold weather, and told my husband, who attributed my worry to  paranoid parenting.

On several occasions, my daughter has complained of a sensation of dust in her mouth or lungs. I never knew what to make of this. I just thought it was her being goofy or trying to get out of doing something. Now, I think it could be a genuine breathing condition. And every time we would ride our bikes up the street she would have to stop for a breath after only a few hundred feet. I just figured she wasn’t getting enough exercise.

Checking in with the doc

I have called the doctor’s office about this and the nurse suggested we deal with the situation at her 9th birthday check-up since the episodes were infrequent, short-lasting and not very severe.

We didn’t make it to her September birthday.  Late last week, our daughter caught what seemed like a standard-issue cold. Within a couple days, though, she had developed a barking hack. Still, she said she felt fine and there was no fever, so we allowed her to sleep at a friend’s house. She came home the following morning with breathing trouble. Based on past experiences, I figured it would pass. The babysitter came, I worked all afternoon.

In the evening, I gave her a kid’s cough suppressant. Her heart began racing and she was becoming increasingly panicked. After a while, she calmed down and we put her to bed. But I felt something wasn’t right. I kept going into her room to watch her breathing. I could hear the whistling through her back. Her stomach was pumping more rapidly than normal as she tried to get a breath. She was restless and talking in her sleep.


I called the doctor at 10:30 p.m. – something I should have done earlier in the day. The doctor on call said to take her in. And so we made our first (and hopefully last) ER visit.  I don’t believe she was in a life-threatening condition, but I’m still glad we went. I’m just not looking forward to getting the bill. A breathing treatment there helped her get some sleep when we got home.

The next day we went to her regular doctor who put her on a regimen of steroid mist and Albuteral to open her airways. We check her lung capacity every day now with a peak flow meter that looks like a cop’s radar gun.

Breathing easier

After a few days, her blood oxygen level had risen 5 points, and she was blowing in the normal range on the meter. We’re still using the steroids, but will begin tapering off.

And we are still getting our heads around what’s happening. My husband just popped by to say, “She doesn’t have asthma. It’s probably just some seasonal thing.”

Whatever works. We still need to treat it.

Meantime, our daughter is in water camp all week at the Boulder Reservoir. Today she’s learning how to sail. She’s having fun – despite the first-day sunburn. And yes, I did slather her in sunscreen.

Editor’s note: If you are dealing with childhood asthma, check out this back-to-school fact sheet from the American Lung Association.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.