A: A lingering cough could be a sign of asthma, especially if it tends to worsen at night or after physical activity. Another warning sign of asthma is shortness of breath, so watch to see if your child's nostrils flare or if the muscles between his ribs retract when he breathes. If your kid's old enough, he may even complain of a tight feeling in his chest. For example, one little boy we know tells his mother he "can't breathe all the way" when his asthma acts up.
You should report any of these symptoms to your pediatrician, and let her know if you have a family history of asthma. If it turns out your child does have asthma, there's no reason to panic. It's a very manageable condition; with proper medication your child can lead a perfectly normal life and participate in all the sports and activities kids typically enjoy.
It's also good to know the symptoms of a serious asthma attack -- your child might begin to breathe very rapidly or have difficulty crying or speaking. If this happens, or if he is wheezing and suddenly stops (which could indicate a closed airway), or if his skin, lips, or fingernails begin to turn blue, call 911. --Marguerite Lamb
Originally published in American Baby magazine, April 2005. Updated 2009