Asthma in Children

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic condition that causes the airways in the lungs to narrow and swell, making it difficult to breath. Everyday triggers in the environment, such as weather, dust, chemicals, smoke, and pet dander, create an even greater sensitivity for asthma sufferers.

As the most common chronic medical condition among children in the U.S., asthma often is the reason why children are seen in the emergency department or admitted to the hospital. It's also the most common reason why children are absent from school.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of asthma are caused by inflammation, which causes narrowing of small air passages in the lungs. Symptoms may include:

  • wheezing
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest tightness

Asthma ranges from mild with occasional symptoms to severe with persistent symptoms that make daily life difficult. Even children with mild disease may have severe asthma episodes (exacerbations).

Meet Gwen

She pushes herself to excel in everything she does: schoolwork, debate, softball. But it took time for her to accept that she has asthma.

Gwen got better at managing her asthma when she realized plenty of other kids have asthma too.

What causes asthma?

The risk factors for developing asthma include:

How we care for asthma

In addition to your primary care provider, Boston Children’s Hospital has two specialty departments that can help children with asthma — the Division of Immunology and the Division of Pulmonary Medicine. We often work together to treat your child.

The Division of Immunology evaluates and treats children with various allergic disorders to inhaled particles, food, insect stings, and drugs. We offer treatments ranging from oral and inhaled medications to immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots, or allergen desensitization). We also do skin testing to determine what your child is allergic to.

In the Division of Pulmonary Medicine, we can help make or confirm the diagnosis of asthma and rule out other breathing disorders that may have similar symptoms. We provide recommendations for treatment, teach children and families the proper way to use medications, and provide long-term follow-up, when needed. We pay special attention to measuring children’s lung function and following their lung development over time in our state-of-the-art pulmonary function testing labs.

The Severe Asthma Program is a collaborative clinical program staffed by pulmonologists, allergists, asthma nurse specialists, and social workers. We treat children who continue to have asthma that is difficult to control even when treated with standard therapies. The Severe Asthma Program team provides an extensive evaluation and management plan, and the team is available to consult with your primary asthma provider about your care or provide you with long-term care for your severe asthma.