Asthma in Children

Asthma is a common chronic breathing problem that tends to run in families. Your child can develop asthma at any age, but it typically begins in childhood. 

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Your partners in care: Pediatricians, pediatric pulmonologists and pediatric allergists at Rush University Children’s Hospital will work with you, your child and each other to develop a coordinated, multidisciplinary care plan to diagnose, treat and manage your child’s asthma.
  • Expert asthma diagnosis for children: Specialists in the Pediatric Pulmonary Function Lab at Rush University Children’s Hospital are experts in diagnosing lung and breathing problems in children, ages 3 to 18. The lab uses an IOS system that allows for early diagnosis of asthma in children as young as 3. This can provide your child with access to early intervention and a personalized asthma management and care plan.
  • Family-centered care: The heart of Rush University Children’s Hospital is family-centered care, which means you will be involved in every care decision for your child. We believe children’s families are integral members of the care team.

What is asthma in children?

Asthma in children occurs when irritants like allergies, exercise and cigarette smoke cause airways — the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs — to become inflamed and fill with mucus. This inflammation makes your child’s airways more sensitive and narrow, causing coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

While there is currently not cure for asthma, some children grow out of it. There are also a number of treatments and lifestyle changes that can help you and your child manage asthma and prevent flare-ups.

Types of asthma

  • Allergen-triggered asthma: About 80 percent of children who have asthma have an underlying allergy to common irritants like dust, pollen and animal dander.
  • Exercise-induced asthma: Some children may experience asthma when they are exercising, particularly if they are exercising outdoors in cold, dry air and when they are taking quick, shallow breaths through their mouths.
  • Occupational or environmental asthma: Environmental irritants and toxins like tobacco smoke, chemicals and dust can cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.
  • Cough-variant asthma: Sometimes referred to as chronic cough, this type of asthma is marked by a dry cough that does not produce mucus and lasts longer than six to eight weeks.

Asthma symptoms

Symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe. 

Your child may experience any or all of these asthma symptoms:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness, heaviness or pain
  • Coughing
    • Dry cough that does not produce mucus
    • Mucus-producing cough
  • Prolonged shortness of breath

Asthma triggers

The following can worsen your child’s asthma symptoms:

  • Smoke/tobacco smoke
  • Paint fumes
  • Perfumes
  • Exercise
  • Breathing in cold, dry air
  • Respiratory infections
  • Allergens like dust mites, animal dander, pollen, molds, foods and others

Care for children with asthma at Rush

Diagnosis

Talk to your child’s pediatrician if your child has is having symptoms of asthma. Diagnosing asthma in children can be difficult because asthma symptoms are similar to other childhood respiratory tract infections.

Evaluation: Your child’s pediatrician will examine your child, discuss their symptoms with you and your child, and discuss additional testing.

Pulmonary function testing: Specialists in the Pediatric Pulmonary Function Lab at Rush are experts in diagnosing lung and breathing problems in children, ages 3 to 18. The lab uses an IOS system that allows for early diagnosis of asthma in children as young as 3.

Treatment

Your child’s care team at Rush will work with you and your child to develop a treatment plan and strategies to manage asthma symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Often treatment focuses on avoiding triggers and taking medications to relieve, manage and prevent your child’s asthma symptoms.

Two types of medications — which can be used alone or in combination with one another — can treat asthma in children:

  • Long-term control: These medications are slow-acting inhaled corticosteroids. Your child will take this medication every day using an inhaler. The medications reduce inflammation in your child’s airway, which will help reduce swelling and mucus to prevent asthma symptoms from starting.
  • Quick relief: These medications are sometimes referred to as rescue medications. Your child will take his medication with an inhaler whenever they experience a flare-up or asthma attack. These medications are designed to open your child’s tight airways quickly. While they treat symptoms quickly, they do not reduce inflammation.