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:

  • having a parent who has, or had, asthma
  • atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • hay fever or other environmental allergies
  • wheezing, apart from colds
  • food allergies (such as to eggs, peanuts or milk)

How we care for asthma

For the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of asthma, in addition to your primary care provider, Boston Children’s Hospital has two specialty departments that can help — the Division of Allergy and Immunology and the Division of Pulmonary and Respiratory Division. We often work together to treat your child.

The Division of Allergy and Immunology evaluates and treats children with various allergic disorders to inhaled particles, food, insect stings and drugs, with approaches 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 Pulmonary and Respiratory Diseases Division, we can help make or confirm the diagnosis of asthma, provide recommendations for therapy, instruct children and families in the proper way to administer medications and provide long-term follow-up when needed.