Does our child have asthma or is it something else?

After about 10 trips to A&E over the last two years, overnight stays at the Paediatric Assessment Unit, countless opinions from different GPs and a couple of appointments with respiratory consultants and asthma nurses with our youngest son, and I still can’t answer that question. Some may say that it’s a moot point but, it would be nice to know.

Currently, our son is prescribed with a brown preventer inhaler which he takes every morning and evening and a blue salbutamol inhaler – or ‘puffer’ as he calls it – which he takes if he gets breathless. That said, we are still none the wiser about his condition.

It all started when our son was 3 years old. He had a cold, nothing more, no real temperature or anything, just a common or garden cold. Nothing to worry about. Kids get colds all the time – schools are after all, nothing more than play areas for viruses, and our son, being in pre-school at the time, often came home with little viral presents for us all to nurture. It manifested itself as a snotty cold, with a little bit of a cough so we dosed him up on Calpol and put him to bed.

The next thing we knew, overnight, our son was having trouble breathing and he had a definite wheeze as he struggled for breath. In a panic we went to our local hospital, which is only a small minor injuries unit, where we were first introduced to the idea of his blood oxygen saturation levels. And they were low. Normally, they should be between 98% and 100% but his were in the mid 80s which is dangerously low. (It basically means his brain was being slowly starved of oxygen).

We were rushed to the Paediatric Assessment Unit in our local hospital where we spent the next 3 days! He was given nebuliser after nebuliser, regular doses of steroids, bursts with a blue inhaler and constant oxygen in an attempt to get his oxygen levels up. Needless to say, we were beside ourselves with worry. Our most pressing concern was his recovery which took a couple of days. On the second night he slept for some of the night without oxygen and by the third day he was breathing ok, albeit with 4 hourly bursts with a blue inhaler. Eventually we were sent home with a shiny new blue inhaler, a spacer (which is used to go over the nose and mouth of small children to make sure they are getting the dose they need) and a wheeze plan for us to manage his recovery at home. But we were still unsure about what it was that he had actually had. The only clear answer we got was that it was a viral wheeze. As it was the first occasion, we were obviously concerned about being in control of his recovery and worried about the future.

Over the next few days, sticking closely to the wheeze plan, our son made a full recovery and, due to the fact that we were told it was viral wheeze, we thought that would be the end of it.

Sadly, this was not the case.

Within two months, it happened again and we found ourselves in the same situation but even though we knew a little more about what to expect, we were still none the wiser about what it actually was that was affecting him and it took a long time for us to realise what his triggers are. We have since learned that there are conflicting theories about whether or not viral wheeze will actually develop into full asthma or if it will just disappear as he gets older and his lungs develop.

Whether it’s Asthma or Viral Wheeze, we have learned how to cope with it, what helps, what reassures us and what kinds of things we can do to get him the treatment he needs quickly when it does flare up. In my next post I will go into more detail about what we have learned that could help you and your little ones if you are having similar experiences.

For now, keep breathing.

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