Experts answer common health and safety questions

Q: I've noticed recently that my 6-year-old son has been having trouble breathing. He seems to wheeze, cough and experience shortness of breath often. I've scheduled an appointment with his primary care doctor, but in the meantime, what could it be? Could he have asthma?

A: You're definitely on the right track to make an appointment with your child's primary-care physician. He or she will be able to accurately diagnose what your child is experiencing.

That being said, the symptoms you've mentioned are symptoms that commonly occur with asthma. Persistent or recurrent cough can be the only symptom in some children. More worrisome symptoms include labored breathing at rest and/or not being able to speak due to breathlessness.

Asthma is a condition in which the airways inside the lungs are inflamed and become hyper-reactive when exposed to certain triggers. This causes the muscles surrounding the lungs to tighten and constrict, making it difficult to breathe.

An asthma flare-up (exacerbation) may be triggered by one or many things. Some common triggers include indoor/outdoor allergens, upper-respiratory infections (colds), cigarette smoke, certain weather conditions, exercise, air pollution and aerosols/strong scents such as candles or even household-cleaning products.

There is no cure for asthma, but you can work with your child's primary-care physician to identify your son's triggers and devise a management plan. The goal is to reduce symptoms on a daily basis, maintain your son's normal activity levels and prevent severe exacerbations from occurring.

-Dr. David Stukus is Co-Director of the Asthma Center Clinic at Nationwide Children's Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University.