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Why do Children Get Asthma

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Government Photo at NIH

Government Photo at NIH

How A Child Gets Asthma

Doctors don’t really know why some people get asthma, but they do know some people have airways that are more sensitive. Pre-school children typically get asthma brought on by a viral infection.

More children are getting asthma and experts suggest they are being exposed to more dust, air pollution and second-hand smoke is the cause. Some doctors think children are not being exposed to enough childhood illnesses to build up their immune system, so the body can’t make enough protective antibodies.

Some facts doctors do know:

  • Asthma sometimes runs in families
  • Many triggers may cause an asthma attack, which include cold air, vigorous exercise and stress
  • Triggers are also called allergens, which are environmental include things present in the environment containing chemicals that trigger attacks
  • Allergens include pollen, animal dander, house dust, mold, cigarette smoke, perfume, and some foods
  • Attacks will likely be more frequent in people with chest infections

Bronchodilator for Child

What is Asthma?

Normally when we take a breath the air travels through a series of bronchial tubes into the lungs, which branch out like a tree. Each branch has a smaller diameter until they finally turn into alveoli, which are millions of tiny air sacs.

This is the point where oxygen is absorbed into the blood stream and distributed it throughout the body. When children have asthma the airways become irritated and inflamed. They also produce extra mucous, which blocks the airways thus air moves more slowly in and out of the lungs.

The symptoms of asthma are coughing, wheezing, tightness of the chest and breathlessness, which occurs in about 10% of children. It is very rare for severe asthma to be fatal in children. The symptoms are caused by narrowing of the passageways and are frequently triggered by allergies or a virus.

Childhood Asthma

How Can I Tell if My Child Has Asthma

Notable symptoms:

  • Frequent, intermittent coughing that is not connected to any illness, especially at night and first thing in the morning, at play or while laughing
  • If your child is lethargic during a normal play time?
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath (asthma attack) at rest should definitely get your attention
  • If your child complains of their chest hurting
  • If you hear a whistling sound, which is wheezing when your child is breathing in and out
  • Seesaw motions (or retractions) in the chest from labored breathing
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • If you child complains of weakness or tiredness
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Frequent headaches
  • Loss of appetite

Remember children don’t always have the same symptoms and many of these symptoms can be due to other causes. However, having wheezing, rapid breathing or labored breathing require medical care more quickly.

Diagnosis of Asthma in Children

A physician will want a history of your child’s problems, and any family history. A physical exam will be completed and most children will receive a chest x-ray and a pulmonary function test. This test measures the amount of air in the lungs and how fast it can be expelled.

This test will help the doctor determine how severe the asthma is, although it is very difficult to do this test on a child under the age of 5 years. If allergies are suspected your child may have allergy skin testing, and the doctor will also look for a sinus infection as well.

Rescue Inhaler - Ventolin


Asthma Treatment for Children

Medications will be determined depending on the severity of your child’s asthma. Doctor’s typically develop a plan (like a diary) of care called “asthma action plan”. You will learn when to seek emergency care. This plan will let you know exactly how to respond to your child’s condition.

There are three components in the successful treatment of asthma, which include controlling/avoiding triggers; regular monitoring of asthma symptoms and lung function and understanding how to use the proper medications.

The number of flares determines treatment with glucocorticoids (steroids). Bronchodilators (Ventolin, Proventil, ProAir, etc.) are frequently used to relieve asthma symptoms rapidly by relaxing the muscles around the narrowed airways. These are used only occasionally. The bronchodilators are also delivered with a nebulizer or through a metered dose inhaler.

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There are side effects of bronchodilators, which include an increased heart rate or becoming hyperactive. Children with persistent asthma must take this medication on a daily basis to keep their asthma under control.

Inhaled glucocortcoids reduces swelling and sensitivity of the bronchial tubes, which reduces reaction to asthma triggers. There are numerous other medications that are used as necessary.

Early Warning Signs of an Asthma Attac

In Conclusion

Asthma is a chronic disease but usually not a lethal one. Fortunately half of the children outgrow asthma, but if it is left untreated, scar tissue will form. Take you baby or child to a physician for an examination if you even suspect your child might have asthma.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on February 27, 2019:

Hi Rajan, You have summed it up nicely. I appreciate your comments.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on February 26, 2019:

Very informative article. With excessive stress being laid on hygiene in children from birth, coupled with poor food habits, antibody production which can fight many diseases, later on, is compromised.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on April 01, 2013:

Patricia, It is so difficult when one of our children have such a serious disease. I am glad she out grew the asthma, which is quite common. Thanks for sharing your experience. God Bless.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 01, 2013:


this is filled with what parents want to know. My daughter had asthma and severe allergies till she was about 15 and then it began to taper off. She had inhalers and got weekly shots. I had to wash the walls in our home and keep our home as dust and mite free as possible. We had stock in the tissue companies :)

Thanks for sharing this so others will have a heads up.

Sending Angels to you and wishing you a blessed week :) ps

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on September 19, 2012:

Spy, Asthma can be serious for children and adults. Thanks so much for your comments.

Life Under Construction from Neverland on September 19, 2012:

very informative and detailed hub. I know children who had asthma too, my niece and nephews..even hospitalized for that.. Awesome hub

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 11, 2011:

Rosemary, It sounds like it must have been air pollution or something other type of pollen. Thank goodness he got well. It is so frightening for parents when their child is sick. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

Rosemary Sadler from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand on December 11, 2011:

A very informative hub and very thorough with some good advice on what to watch for.

My son developed asthma when we moved to Sydney at the age of 6, he was very ill, couldn't eat because it brought on coughing fits, lost heaps of weight and at night I dare not sleep. We moved away a year later and withing 3 months his asthma was all cleared up and has never bothered him since. I tend to think that it was the air polution.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on December 07, 2011:

uniquearticlebuzz, Thank you so much for your comments.

uniquearticlesbuz from USA on December 07, 2011:

This hub is awesome and informative.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 10, 2011:

b.Marlin, You are fortunate that it didn't last and I imagine you have had the pneumonia vaccine by now. Thanks so much for your comments.

b. Malin on November 10, 2011:

What an Interesting Hub on Causes of Asthma. It is such a Horrible Experience not being able to breathe. The Inhalers have good and bad points, but for some, they are so necessary... but they do seem to make the lungs more fragile. Thanks for all the useful information Pamela. I know after I had Pneumonia, a few years ago, for awhile the doctors thought I had developed Asthma, but I was happy to see it didn't last with me.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 09, 2011:

Eiddwen, I hope people do benefit from the hub as that is why I write about health issues so often. As a nurse I have seen doctors explain disease in terms patients don't always understand, so I try to keep it informative but understandable. Thanks for your comments. I'm glad your boys are doing better now.

Eiddwen from Wales on November 09, 2011:

Hi Pamela,

This is a very well informed and presented article.

Both my sons had asthma,and had the use of inhalers,they did sort of grow out of it but their chests are still more fragile than the girls'.

I am sure that many readers will benefit from reading this one.

Take care and have a great day.



Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 02, 2011:

Will, It is a shame that they have not made more medical advances is asthma as most of the drugs have undesirable side effects. I hope you son will still outgrow his asthma. Thanks for your comments.

WillStarr from Phoenix, Arizona on November 02, 2011:

I lost count of the number of times I took my oldest son to the ER due to another asthma attack. He was an infant at the time. He still uses an inhaler.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 02, 2011:

drbj, It does not seem like they know much more when it comes to causes. I think they do have more success with babies and young children as long as the parents get medical care. I was around smokers growing up and in my first marriage. Thanks for your comments.

anginwu, Asthma plans are a step forward but they still have a long way to go. I take it you outgrew the asthma. I hope so. Thanks for your comments.

anglnwu on November 02, 2011:

As usual, your hub is very thorough and I learned quite a bit. I was ashmatic as a child and remember how much problem I had just trying to breathe. I'm glad that doctors can develop asthma action plans to help the child. I didn't have the privilege of having that kind of medical care then. Rated up.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 02, 2011:

Very thorough examination of asthma, Pamela. It seems that physicians today know little more about asthma than they did years ago. The only breakthrough I have seen is the invention of bronchodilators which help to alleviate the symptoms but do not necessarily cure the disease.

Were you around smokers and secondhand smoke when growing up?

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 02, 2011:

CNCastro, I'm glad your daughter is okay. I have asthma and have never been a smoker, but certainly more smokers have lung problems than non-smokers. Thanks for your comments.

Christina M. Castro from Baltimore,MD USA on November 01, 2011:

You are such a good informant. What you write about seems to be your expertise. I take a long time to research my information when I write about the medical conditions, so what you share here at Hub Pages is well done! When I heard that my Dad had asthma, I vowed I would never smoke. Interestingly, my daughter had to stop swimming in a chlorinated pool because the chemicals would bring on a reaction. And thank God, she is alright. Thanks for a great hub.

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2011:

oceansnsunsets, I hope your son is okay. Thanks for your comments.

K9keystrokes, I'm glad the hub was useful for your and I appreciate your comments.

India Arnold from Northern, California on November 01, 2011:

What an informative piece of work here. I learned a lot about Asthma by reading this hub. Super good information. Thank you for writing on this important subject. I did not know you could "get" asthma, but thanks to your hub I have a much better understanding of this disorder.



Paula from The Midwest, USA on November 01, 2011:

Pamela, thank you for sharing this, as my older son recently has been struggling with what I think is an asthmatic cough. Its not too bad, but bad enough to get checked out. Thanks for sharing this, great hub!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2011:

leahlefler, Thank you for sharing that information. I was going to write about laryngopharyngeal reflux but the article was getting too long. It is something people need to be aware of and doctors often check children with serious asthma for this condition. I appreciate your comments.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on November 01, 2011:

This is a very interesting article. My son has silent reflux (laryngopharyngeal reflux) that hits his airways and he is at risk for developing asthma as he grows because of the irritation of chronic acid exposure. Cardisa, I can't imagine that tragedy - how horrifying for a child to die from the wrong medication!

Thanks for writing this - it helps remind us of the signs we need to be on the lookout for!

Pamela Oglesby (author) from Sunny Florida on November 01, 2011:

Cardisa, That is a horrible tragedy. Fortunately that doesn't happen too often as far as I know. Thank you for your comments.

Sunnie Day, It is great that you can administer these medications and I'm glad you mentioned the black coffee as I've heard about that but didn't think of it when I was writing. Thanks for your comments.

Sunnie Day on November 01, 2011:

Wonderful aritcle Pam..I am amazed how many children came into my clinic at school with Asthma. Each year there are more and more cases. I am thankful for being able to administer inhalers and neb treatments in school settings as you never know what may happen. We have had a couple close calls..Black coffee worked sometimes until parents arrived if they did not have inhalers..Thanks for a great article. Very informative.


Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on November 01, 2011:

Recently in my country, a child with asthma was taken on their local hospital and was given the wrong meds, she died in less than 12 minutes. It was so shocking and devastating. Thanks for this article Pamela.

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