Good question! It is possible for a child to have asthma even if he doesn't wheeze consistently. Sometimes asthma can take the form of a hacking cough whenever a kid exerts himself too hard. Other symptoms may include chest tightness and shortness of breath.
Talk to your pediatrician about your son's symptoms. She'll probably have some questions about his medical history, since certain factors -- like family history or having seasonal allergies -- make kids more prone to the condition. The doctor may also want to perform a painless test on your son to check for any airway narrowing (a major sign of asthma). During the test, your child will breathe into a machine called a spirometer, or a device called a peak flow reader to determine how well he's breathing.
If your child is diagnosed with asthma, your doctor may not put him on a daily medication right away until she has a better idea of how often the coughing episodes happen. She may suggest you carry a rescue inhaler in your purse for when sudden symptoms crop up. If your son attends school or daycare, you should also give an inhaler to his teacher or school nurse in case he has an episode there.
Rest assured that your child doesn't have to quit the soccer team or cut out physical activity just because he may have asthma. As long as the condition is properly controlled, it shouldn't interfere at all. And if your kid's worried about not being as strong or as fast as his friends, you can remind him that even many Olympic athletes have exercise-induced asthma.