Around 7.5 million children in the United States have asthma. Asthma is one of the most common chronic (long-term) diseases in children. It is also one of the main causes for missed school days.1 It cannot be cured, but it can be managed.
Childhood asthma tends to affect more male children than female children. But adult females have higher rates of asthma than males. Some studies suggest that the increase in testosterone hormone in males decreases swelling in the airways.2
Some children have a higher risk of asthma. Asthma rates are highest in children who are:
Most children with asthma will show symptoms before they turn 5 years old.3 However, people can develop asthma at any age. Asthma signs and symptoms in infants and toddlers may also be different from older children and teens.
The signs and symptoms of asthma in a baby or toddler include:
Signs and symptoms of asthma in school-age children and teens may include some symptoms above as well as:
Experts don’t know exactly what causes asthma in children. But the following risk factors may make a child more likely to have asthma:
Viral upper respiratory infections (URIs) are the most important trigger factor for children with asthma.
To diagnose asthma in a child, a doctor will ask about medical and family history, do a physical exam, and do lung function tests, if possible. They may also do allergy testing. If your child is too young to do a lung function test, the doctor may prescribe a trial of asthma medicine to see if their symptoms get better.
It is important to get proper treatment for your child’s asthma. This will help them feel better and miss fewer school days. It can also prevent permanent lung damage.
The treatment for asthma in children involves:
Once you know your triggers, you can control or manage them. (Use AAFA’s Healthier Home Checklist to help you.)
You can also keep your child healthier by protecting them from exposure to tobacco smoke. If you or a loved one smokes tobacco cigarettes or vapes, there are programs to help you quit. Resources to support your journey to a smoke-free life include:
You can also call your insurance company or your employer to see if they offer tobacco cessation benefits.
Most children with asthma also have allergies. By treating their allergies, it will help their asthma stay under control, too.
When your child’s asthma is under control, you can expect:
Asthma is a life-long disease with no cure. As a child gets older, their asthma symptoms may get better and appear to “go away.” But airway inflammation may never truly go away. It often returns later in life. About half of children who had asthma will get symptoms again when they are in their 30s or 40s. They may also develop new asthma triggers over time that could cause symptoms to reappear.
Medical Review: June 2022 by John James, MD
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Asthma-Related Missed School Days Among Children Aged 5-17 Years. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/asthma_stats/missing_days.htm
2. Fuseini, H., & Newcomb, D. C. (2017). Mechanisms Driving Gender Differences in Asthma. Current Allergy and Asthma Reports, 17(3). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11882-017-0686-1
3. Asthma in Children: Signs, Symptoms and Treatment. (n.d.). American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Retrieved June 28, 2022, from https://acaai.org/asthma/asthma-101/who-gets-asthma/children