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Outgrowing Asthma: Is Remission Possible?

WebMD discusses how common asthma is in children and which kids are more likely to outgrow it.

How do I know if my child really does have asthma?

A doctor's work-up will start with a medical history including symptoms (such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath) and family history. A physical exam will also be done. Pulmonary function testing with spirometry can provide information about lung function and severity of the asthma. A chest X-ray may be ordered to help visualize the lungs. Allergy testing can be done to determine if allergies play a role in symptoms. Additional tests may be done to investigate other causes of symptoms.

If my child no longer has asthma symptoms, could it be that he was misdiagnosed with the disease?

Perhaps. Rachelefsky says a lot of children diagnosed with asthma don’t have it and many asthmatics go undiagnosed.

“Spirometry is standard, but many physicians in primary care practices don’t have a spirometer. They diagnose sinusitis as asthma and mistake asthma for esophageal reflux,” he says.

But for children under the age of 2, it is difficult to do spirometry to test for asthma. When a child is that young, providing a diagnosis “is an imperfect science,” says Reynolds J. Panettieri Jr., a pulmonologist with the University of Pennsylvania.

“If you have true asthma, you don’t outgrow it,” so young children who are wheezing from a viral infection that hangs around for a long time may not have asthma but “twitchy” or hypersensitive airways that are a holdover from the virus, he says.

Johnson says, even if a child is too young for standard testing, “It’s better to err on the side of caution and treat kids whether they have asthma or not. The benefits are great,” he says.

Why do more boys outgrow asthma than girls?

Although a recent study found that boys were more likely than girls to outgrow asthma, Rachelefsky says there isn’t enough research to make any conclusions about gender and the progression of asthma.

Panettieri says more girls develop asthma after the onset of puberty; boys develop it before.

“It’s not that boys outgrow it, but now there are more women with it,” he says.

Some studies have suggested that hormonal differences may factor in to a higher prevalence of adult asthma in women.

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