A child taking an asthma test.
Asthma is commonly found in children ages 12 to 17.

Asthma Symptoms in Children

Asthma is a common lung disease in both adults and children. Although the condition is chronic, which means it lasts long-term, some children appear to grow out of symptoms. But for others, asthma lasts into adulthood. Let’s take a look at what asthma symptoms in children look like so you know if your child may have it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 5.5 million children under the age of 18 have asthma in the United States. That equals about 7.5% of children. The CDC statistics also show that more boys than girls are diagnosed with asthma, although only by about 3%.

Asthma affects people between 12 and 17 at higher rates than school-age or preschool children. Although it may be that older children are diagnosed easier than younger children.

One thing that is clear is that asthma can have an adverse effect on a child’s overall well-being. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American, asthma is a leading cause of missed days from school.

Asthma Causes

It is not entirely clear why some children develop asthma, but research indicates that it may run in families. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAI), exposure to cigarette smoke when a child is young or during pregnancy increases their asthma risk. Other possible causes include:

  • Obesity
  • Living in a location that has poor air quality
  • Having a history of allergies

Once a child has asthma, various factors may trigger an attack. What causes a flare-up of asthma symptoms in children varies from one child to another. In some instances, more than one thing may trigger asthma symptoms.

Possible causes of asthma symptoms include:

  • Allergies
  • Exercise
  • Infections
  • Emotions, including excitement or stress

Warning Signs and Symptoms

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, symptoms of asthma in children usually develop before the age of five. Because children have smaller airways than adults, they can develop symptoms quickly. Even mild illnesses, such as a cold, can cause inflammation in the airways and make their small airways even smaller, leading to breathing problems.

Common symptoms of asthma in children include:

  • A wheezing sound in the lungs, especially during exhalation
  • Coughing, which may increase at night
  • Fast breathing
  • Retractions, which involves pulling the ribs and neck in when inhaling
  • Frequent chest colds
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Although childhood asthma has some similar symptoms to adult asthma, there are also some differences. Children tend to have more intermittent symptoms than adults. They are also more sensitive to allergens since their immune system is less mature.

It is also not uncommon for children to develop asthma symptoms quickly. Children tend to compensate for mild asthma symptoms and may not seem very sick but breathing emergencies can develop fast in kids.

It is helpful for parents and caregivers to understand some children show early warning signs that their asthma may be starting to flare-up. Early warning signs come before full-fledged asthma attack symptoms. Recognizing signs that an asthma attack may be on the way can help parents get their child treatment before symptoms become severe.

Although asthma warning signs may be different for each child, below are some possible signs to watch for:

  • Increased sneezing
  • Moodiness
  • Decreased tolerance for exercise or play
  • Poor sleeping
  • Feeling tired often
  • Breathing changes, such as increased rate
  • Runny nose
  • Throat itchiness

Not all the symptoms above always indicate a possible asthma attack is one the way. It is helpful to monitor your child for possible early warning signs to determine if a pattern has developed. The sooner you can identify a potential asthma attack, the easier it will be to control symptoms.

Emergency Asthma Symptoms

If your child develops certain symptoms, it is essential to get them immediate medical help. A child’s smaller airway means they may develop respiratory distress or failure quicker than an adult. According to the American Lung Association, even though asthma deaths in children are rare, they do occur.

If your child experiences any of the following signs or symptoms, get immediate help:

  • Bluish skin or nails
  • Trouble talking in complete sentences due to shortness of breath
  • Constant wheezing
  • Grunting
  • Retractions
  • Repeated breathing treatments without improvement

Treatments for Childhood Asthma

Childhood asthma is treatable and symptoms can be managed effectively. One of the first steps in successful treatment involves determining what triggers your child’s symptoms. Keep a log of when symptoms develop and try to identify what may have led to a flare-up.

It is also vital to work with your child’s doctor to develop an asthma action plan. The action plan includes information on what medications your child should take and what to do in case of a flare-up.

An asthma treatment plan may include:

  • Inhaled bronchodilators
  • Inhaled steroids
  • Decreasing allergens
  • Measuring peak flow to determine the early signs of an attack

Speak to your child’s teachers and coaches about your child’s asthma, so they are aware of what to do in an asthma emergency. If your child is old enough, have them take an active role in their treatment plan and make sure they understand when and how to take their asthma medications.