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Childhood Asthma: Risk, Triggers and Symptoms

Friday, October 10, 2014 10:58 AM

Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders in children, and, for unknown reasons, is on the rise. Asthma is a reversible lung disease that inflames and narrows airways, causing chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing. While there is no cure for asthma, with modern knowledge and proper treatment, you and your child can take an active role in managing this disease. If diagnosed, your child can live an active life and sleep through the night without ever experiencing asthma symptoms.

Leslie Deitch Noble, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, discusses risk factors for and signs of pediatric asthma:

What are the risk factors for developing childhood asthma?

  • Family history. If there is a family history of allergies, eczema or asthma, there is an increased risk for developing asthma in childhood. 
  • Personal history of allergies. This includes both food allergies and seasonal/environmental allergies
  • Personal history of eczema.
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke. Whether during pregnancy or after birth, exposure to cigarette smoke or any tobacco product can significantly increase risk. 
  • Higher exposure to pollution. Children living in urban settings have increased exposure to air pollution, which can increase their risk. 
  • Respiratory infections and sinus issues. Children with frequent respiratory tract infections, pneumonia, chronic runny/stuffy noses and other sinus issues have been shown to have a higher risk for childhood asthma. 
  • Being male. Boys have a higher incidence of pediatric asthma than girls. 
  • Possibly low birth weight. 

What are common triggers that can cause a child with asthma to have “flare-ups” or asthma “attacks”?

  • Exposure to substances that the child is allergic to. The most common of which are: mold, pollen, dust mites, animal dander and cockroaches.
  • Respiratory infections. Examples of such respiratory infections are: viral infections of the nose and throat (i.e., “colds”), pneumonia, sinus infections.
  • Irritants in the air that the child breathes. Depending on the child’s particular sensitivities, these can include: tobacco and other smoke, air pollution, cold/dry air, perfumes, fumes from cleaning products.
  • Exercise.
  • Stress.

How can you tell if your child has asthma? Symptoms are not the same for every child and symptoms may even vary from one attack to another in the same child, so diagnosis can be difficult. Here are common symptoms to watch out for and discuss with your child’s pediatrician:

  • Frequent coughing spells that occur most commonly at night or early in the morning.
  • Coughing that occurs during physical activity, play or laughter.
  • Less energy during play, feelings of weakness or tiredness.
  • Rapid breathing, shortness of breath, wheezing.
  • Chest pain, chest congestion and tightness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Breathing issues that may prevent play.

If your child has prolonged experience with any of these symptoms, take them to their doctor immediately for evaluation. 

Have questions about pediatric asthma or any other pediatric concern? Join NorthShore's online community, The Parent 'Hood, to connect with other new and expecting parents, as well as our expert physicians. Find support, ask questions and share your stories. Click The Parent 'Hood to start now!