Asthma Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

Asthma Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors

The number of children with asthma has risen dramatically in the past few decades.  With the wheezing comes the worrying. 

Could your child be the one in every ten children leaving site icon who is affected by what is now the most common chronic disease of childhood. leaving site icon Here’s what parents need to know.

Asthma is a condition that tends to run in families where overly sensitive airways swell, tighten, and produce excess mucus. Who’s at the highest risk leaving site icon of developing asthma?  Children who have a history of being born premature, live with smokers, or come from families with parents or close relatives who have allergies or asthma are more likely to develop the disease.   Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what factors prompt asthma to develop in susceptible children, but asthma seems to result from both an inherited tendency and exposure to environmental factors. About half of children with asthma develop symptoms by age two, and about 80 percent will have symptoms by age five.  But detecting asthma in babies and toddlers can be difficult. When especially younger children get certain respiratory infections, their tiny airways are filled easily with mucus. This can lead to the wheezing sound that may sound like asthma but isn’t.  Monitoring for the below symptoms every time your child gets a cold or viral illness helps predict the chances your child may have asthma.

Parents should be on the lookout for these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing—especially at night, early in the morning, or during /after exercise
  • Wheezing
  • Any of the above that commonly occur when your child gets a cold or respiratory virus

If you think your child may have asthma, don’t wait. Take them to see a doctor. A medical history, certain breathing, and allergy tests can help determine if treatment is needed.  What is causing the asthma symptoms? Possible culprits include cigarette smoke, dust mites and pets to which many people have an allergic reaction. Allergies are a common trigger for asthma symptoms. If your child has allergies, managing the triggers may lead to fewer asthma problems.

Tips for managing triggers

Work with the doctor to find your child’s allergic triggers. Then discuss ways to avoid or control them. For example:

  • Dust mites. These microscopic bugs thrive in mattresses, pillows, bedding and other cloth items. Encase mattresses and pillows in allergy-proof covers leaving site icon and minimize extra bedding items such as throw blankets, stuffed animals and decorator pillows. Wash bedding regularly in hot water.
  • Indoor mold. Mold and mildew grows in damp areas. Depending on the time of year and area you live in, keep indoor humidity levels no more than 50%. Scrub any visible mold from hard surfaces with water and detergent. Dry the area completely. Repair and seal any leaks
  • Furry animals. Ban dogs and cats from your child’s bedroom. If your child has a pet hamster, rabbit or guinea pig, have someone else clean the cage.

How can allergies be treated?

Talk with your child’s doctor about allergy treatments. Options include:

  • Nasal sprays. Steroid nasal sprays are now generally the main treatment for allergies. They are safe when used as directed and are available without a prescription.  Your doctor can offer further advice if you have any questions.
  • These medications also are widely available without a prescription. Check with your child’s doctor before giving them to your child. Some may cause drowsiness.
  • Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists: Sometimes known as LTRAs for short are non-steroids medications taken by mouth that can be primary or secondary, ‘add-on’ treatment for both allergies and asthma. They are available by a prescription only from your doctor.
  • Allergy shots. This treatment is generally reserved for severe allergies when other treatments don’t work. It helps the immune system become less sensitive to allergy-causing items. Regular visits to the doctor’s office are required for at least three years. Children with severe asthma may not be able to take allergy shots.

To learn more about Asthma and the Taking on Asthma initiative, and to help you breathe easier about your child’s treatment options, visit our website.

Originally Published: June 1, 2016; Revised 2020