What Is Asthma?
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.
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.