Asthma Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors


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With the wheezing comes the worrying. Could your child be the one in every ten children who is affected by what is now the most common chronic disease of childhood. The number of children with asthma has risen dramatically in the past few decades.  Here’s what parents need to know when their young child shows signs of congestion and coughing.

Asthma is a condition that tends to run in families where overly sensitive airways swell, tighten, and produce excess mucus. Children from families with parents or close relatives who have allergies or asthma are more likely to develop the disease. Who’s at the  highest risk of developing asthma?  Young children who often wheeze and have respiratory issues.  And, more boys have asthma than do girls. 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. Babies  born premature and those with a history of respiratory infections have been shown to face an increased risk of asthma. But detecting asthma in babies can be difficult. Their tiny airways are filled easily with mucus when they have a cold or other respiratory infection. This can lead to the wheezing sound that commonly signals asthma. About half of children with asthma develop symptoms by age two, and about 80 percent will have symptoms by age five.

Parents should be on the lookout for these symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest congestion or tightness
  • Frequent colds
  • Coughing—especially at night or early in the morning
  • Wheezing

If you think your child may have asthma, don’t wait. Take them to see a doctor. 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. Wash bedding weekly in hot water.
  • Indoor mold. Mold grows in damp areas. Scrub 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:

  • Allergy shots. This treatment 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.
  • Antihistamines. These allergy medications are widely available without a prescription. Check with your child’s doctor before giving them to your child. Some may cause drowsiness.
  • Nasal sprays. Some allergy medications may be taken as nasal sprays. One example is a nasal steroid spray. Use nasal sprays only on the advice of your child’s doctor.

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