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Asthma in Children - What Increases Your Risk

Many things can increase a child's risk for asthma. Some of these are not within your control; others you can control.

Personal and family history

  • Gender. Among children, boys have asthma more often than girls.
  • Race. Asthma is more common in black children than in white children.2
  • Bronchial tubes that overreact. Children who inherit a tendency of the bronchial tubes camera.gif (which carry air to the lungs) to overreact often develop asthma.
  • A history of allergies, including food allergies. Children who have an allergy are more likely than other children to develop asthma. Most children with asthma have allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, or both. Studies show that 40 to 50 out of 100 children who have atopic dermatitis develop asthma. Having atopic dermatitis as a child may also increase the risk of a person having more severe and persistent asthma as an adult.3
  • A family history of allergies and asthma. Children who have an allergy and asthma usually have a family history of allergies or asthma.
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and wheezing at a young age. Early infection with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that causes a lower respiratory infection increases a child's risk for wheezing.4 Young children who wheeze have a greater risk for asthma than children who do not wheeze.

Other things that increase your child's risk

  • Secondhand cigarette smoke. Children who are around secondhand cigarette smoke are at increased risk for developing asthma.5 If children already have the disease, secondhand smoke increases the severity of their symptoms.
  • Cigarette smoking. Children who smoke are more likely to develop asthma when they become teenagers. A large study found that children who smoked at least 300 cigarettes in a year were almost 4 times more likely to get asthma.6
  • Cigarette smoking during pregnancy. Women who smoke during pregnancy increase the risk of wheezing in their babies. Babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy also have worse lung function than babies whose mothers did not smoke.5
  • Obesity. Studies have found a link between obesity in children and a higher-than-average asthma prevalence. But the reason for the link is unclear.2 Also, symptoms caused by obesity are sometimes thought to be asthma symptoms.
  • Dust mites. Being around dust mites may increase your child's risk for asthma.5
  • Cockroaches. In one study, children who had a high level of cockroach droppings in their home were 4 times more likely to have a new diagnosis of asthma than children whose homes have a low level.5


Experts are also not sure about the effect that pets in the home have on getting asthma. An analysis of several studies found that having a pet cat appeared to protect against asthma. Having a pet dog slightly increased the risk for asthma. The effect of other furry pets on the risk of asthma was not clear.7

If your child already has asthma and allergies to pets, having a pet in the home may make his or her asthma worse.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 14, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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