Early Asthma Detection

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
December 9, 2007 9:00:00 PM PST
It's one of the leading causes of hospitalization for children. One in 10 kids suffers from asthma, yet doctors may sometimes have a difficult time getting an accurate diagnosis in very young patients.Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg.

Three-year-old Naomi Shaviss landed in the hospital after her wheezing wouldn't go away. Her father was worried.

Her dad, Robert Shaviss, says doctors began treating Naomi for asthma last year. But for some toddlers, a diagnosis is more difficult. With older children, doctors can use a test called spirometry to measure lung function that's nearly impossible for toddlers.

"We have to get children to fill their lungs completely up and blast it out very hard and fast," said Dr. Daniel Weiner, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "Most littler kids can't do that on their own."

That's when doctors may use a special device to help them. During an infant lung function test, the child is sedated and placed in a special Plexiglas bed wearing a face mask. An inflatable bag is placed over the baby's chest and a vest over that. Doctors fill the baby's lungs, then quickly inflate the bag so the vest gives the child a squeeze, helping him forcefully exhale.

This technology is already used to test for chronic lung diseases like cystic fibrosis. Now, some are beginning to test kids they suspect have asthma, but aren't responding to treatment.

"Ten or 15 years ago people would say this is purely a research test and one should never take the risk of sedating a child to measure their lung function," Dr. Weiner said. "But I think we're finding that there are many reasons where it's important to know their lung function."

"You need to know what's going on, because if you don't, asthma can be life-threatening," Robert says. "Unless it's diagnosed and kept under control."

The infant lung testing usually takes under two hours to complete. Patients go home the same day. By the age of 5 or 6, doctors can successfully use spirometry to test patients.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh
Patient Information Line
Phone: (412) 692-7337