Pediatric Pulmonology: 6 Common Conditions to Know
Every parent sees their fair share of coughs, colds and respiratory illnesses. If your child begins experiencing severe or ongoing lung issues, however, your pediatrician may call in a pediatric pulmonologist, a physician who specializes in the care of children with lung disorders and breathing difficulties.
While pediatric pulmonologists treat a wide variety of lung conditions, six common ones include:
- Apnea. This condition occurs when a child stops breathing for 20 seconds or more. There are three types of apnea: Central apnea occurs when the brain signal is inadequate, obstructive apnea occurs when something in the airway blocks air intake, and mixed apnea occurs when both conditions exist to varying degrees. Apnea is especially common in premature infants, but they often outgrow it.
- Asthma. This condition is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that creates swelling and causes airways to narrow. According to the CDC, more than 9% of children have asthma, making it one of the most common long-term childhood diseases. Symptoms include tightness in the chest, wheezing, difficulty breathing deeply and coughing. Flare ups often occur early in the morning or at night.
- Chronic cough. Chronic coughs have lasted more than 8 weeks. Often associated with lingering bouts of bronchitis, colds, croup or flu, some are caused by bronchiolitis (a viral infection in the smallest airways in the lungs), pneumonia or whooping cough. In kids, coughing is second only to runny noses as an initial symptom of illness, but 90% of coughs disappear in about three weeks.
- Chronic lung disease (CLD). This broad label is often applied until a definitive diagnosis is available, so a wide variety of congenital and restrictive lung disorders may be classified as CLDs until the underlying cause is identified. Premature infants may develop CLD if lung function is impaired after an extended period on a respirator.
- Cystic fibrosis (CF). Cystic fibrosis is caused by a genetic defect, and it’s usually identified at birth due to newborn testing. While it’s one of the most common genetic conditions in the US, it’s comparatively rare, affecting 30,000 children and adults. CF causes thick, sticky mucous that clogs airways and affects other functions such as digestion and elimination. Symptoms include wheezing, persistent coughs, breathlessness and recurrent lung infections. The child’s skin may taste salty, because the defective gene affects how salt moves in and out of cells.
- Pneumonia. Viral and bacterial pneumonia create pockets of infection in the lungs that produce a range of breathing issues. Pneumonia typically occurs when the immune system is depressed or after an initial cough or cold. Symptoms include cough, rapid or labored breathing, fever, chest pains, vomiting, wheezing and a blue tinge around the lips and face. Pneumonia is contagious so any child can get it, but those with pre-existing lung issues are more susceptible.
This article is not intended as medical advice. See your pediatrician for specific advice on your child’s health.