Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Asthma Health Center

Select An Article
Font Size

What Is Asthma?

(continued)

Asthma in Children

Asthma is increasingly prevalent among children. Nearly one in 10 American children now has asthma, a sharp rise that still has scientists searching for a cause. As of 2013, an estimated 7.1 million children under age 18 (9.5%) have been diagnosed with the disease. The rate of childhood asthma has more than doubled since 1980, according to the CDC.

Asthma symptoms can vary from episode to episode in the same child. Signs and symptoms of asthma to look for include:

  • Frequent coughing spells, which may occur during play, at nighttime, or while laughing. It's important to know that coughing with asthma may be the only symptom present.
  • Less energy during play, or pausing to catch breath during play
  • Rapid or shallow breathing
  • Complaint of chest tightness or chest "hurting"
  • Whistling sound when breathing in or out. This whistling sound is called wheezing.
  • Seesaw motions in the chest from labored breathing. These motions are called retractions.
  • Shortness of breath, loss of breath
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • Feelings of weakness or tiredness

For more information, see WebMD's Asthma in Children.

Asthma Causes and Triggers

 

People with asthma have very sensitive airways that react to many different things in the environment called "asthma triggers." Contact with these triggers cause asthma symptoms to start or worsen. The following are common triggers for asthma:

  • Infections such as sinusitis, colds, and flu
  • Allergens such as pollens, mold spores, pet dander, and dust mites
  • Irritants such as strong odors from perfumes or cleaning solutions, and air pollution
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Exercise (known as exercise-induced asthma)
  • Weather; changes in temperature and/or humidity, cold air
  • Strong emotions such as anxiety, laughter or crying, stress
  • Medications, such as aspirin-sensitive asthma

For more information, see WebMD's Causes of Asthma.

Asthma Attack

An asthma attack is a sudden worsening of symptoms. With an asthma attack, your airways tighten, swell up, or fill with mucus. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing out)
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure

Not every person with asthma experiences the same symptoms of an asthma attack. You may not have all of these symptoms, or you may have different symptoms at different times. Your symptoms may be subtle, such as decreased activity, or lethargy. Your symptoms may also vary from mild to severe from one asthma attack to the next.

 

Status Asthmaticus (Severe Asthma Attacks)

Prolonged asthma attacks that do not respond to treatment with bronchodilators are a medical emergency. Doctors call these severe attacks "status asthmaticus" and they require immediate emergency care.

For more information, see WebMD's Status Asthmaticus.

Asthma Diagnosis and Treatment

If you suspect that you have asthma, see your asthma specialist, also known as a pulmonologist. He or she can examine you and run tests for asthma to determine if you have it.

If an asthma diagnosis is made, there are many asthma treatments available to relieve your symptoms. 

 

1|2

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on February 25, 2014
Next Article:

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

When Is Your Asthma Worse?

Take the WebMD Asthma assessment to get Personalized Action Plan

Start Now

Today on WebMD

Distressed woman
Slideshow
Woman holding an asthma inhaler
Article
 
Get Personalized Asthma Advice
Health Check
asthma overview
Slideshow
 
Los Angeles skyline in smog
Slideshow
man in a field with allergies
Slideshow
 
Woman holding inhaler
VIDEO
Slideshow Allergy Myths and Facts
Slideshow
 
Man outdoors coughing
Article
Lung and bronchial tube graphic
Article
 
10 Worst Asthma Cities
Slideshow
runner
Article