The wheezing, the shortness of breath. Will it ever end?
Sometimes young children have asthma-like symptoms that disappear. What they have isn't asthma. It’s a temporary condition that doesn’t turn into the lung disease, says Joyce C. Rabbat, MD. She's an assistant professor at Loyola University Medical Center’s Division of Allergy and Immunology. The wheezing is treated just like asthma, but it goes away by itself, usually by age 5 or 6.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. With asthma, there is inflammation of the air passages that results in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This results in asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. If it is severe, asthma can result in decreased activity and inability to talk. Some people refer to asthma as "bronchial asthma."
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Most kids who have symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath beyond that age are considered to have asthma, and they may always have it. But for about half of them, symptoms go away around adolescence.
It isn’t clear why this happens, says Chitra Dinakar, MD, a pediatric allergist at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO. The triggers that once caused flares don't, she says, but the kid still has asthma.
The break in symptoms is more common among boys, children without sensitivity to furry animals, and kids with less severe asthma.
When Symptoms Fade
If a child is symptom-free for an extended period, it’s called remission.
Your child may be nearing remission if she:
Goes a longer time without symptoms like wheezing, chest tightness, cough, and shortness of breath
Is physically active without having flares or needing medicine
Needs less and less rescue medication to treat symptoms
There’s always a chance of the symptoms coming back. Sometimes they reappear in adulthood, and they can be brought on by triggers different from before. In about half the kids whose symptoms decline during adolescence, they'll reappear when they hit their 30s or 40s, studies say.
If your child has the following, she’s more likely to have persistent, lifelong asthma.
Smoking, weight gain, and other factors can also increase the chances of symptoms coming back.
“Unfortunately we cannot alter the natural course of asthma, but we can get it under excellent control,” Rabbat says. Help your child avoid or control the triggers that set off her asthma to help prevent flares.