Introduction of Asthma in children

Asthma is a common long-term condition that can be effectively controlled in most children. The severity of asthma symptoms varies between children, from mild to severe.

In the UK, over 1.1 million children have asthma. 

What is asthma?

Asthma affects the airways, the small tubes known as the bronchi, that carry air in and out of the lungs. If your child has asthma, the airways of their lungs are more sensitive than normal.

When your child comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs, known as a trigger (see below), their airways narrow, the lining becomes inflamed, the muscles around them tighten, and there is an increase in the production of sticky mucus or phlegm.

This makes it difficult to breathe and causes symptoms such as:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest

Asthma attack

A sudden, severe onset of symptoms is known as an asthma attack, or an acute asthma exacerbation. Asthma attacks can sometimes be managed at home but may require hospital treatment. They are occasionally life threatening.

Read more about the symptoms of asthma in children.

Causes of asthma

The exact cause of asthma is not yet fully understood. Asthma often runs in families and a child is more likely to have asthma if one or both parents have the condition.

There are also a range of asthma triggers, although everyone’s asthma is different and people may have several triggers.

An upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu is the most common trigger of an asthma attack. Other common triggers include:

  • exercise, especially in cold weather
  • an allergy to and contact with house dust mites, animal fur, grass and tree pollen
  • exposure to air pollution, especially tobacco smoke

Read more about the causes of asthma in children.

Asthma is more common in young boys than young girls. However, this changes as children get older and, after puberty, asthma is more common in girls.

During teenage years, the symptoms of asthma may disappear. However, asthma can return in adulthood.

It can be difficult to diagnose asthma in children as many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

Read more about how asthma is diagnosed in children.

Treating asthma in children

While there is no cure for asthma, there are effective treatments that can help control the condition. Treatment is based on two important goals:

  • relieving symptoms 
  • preventing future symptoms and attacks from developing

Treatment involves a combination of medicines, a personal asthma action plan and avoiding potential asthma triggers.

Read more about how asthma in children is treated.

It is important for your child to continue using their prescribed medication, with regular reviews. This will help to keep asthma symptoms under control as your child gets older.

There are also several lifestyle changes that may help you and your child to manage their asthma. With support from schools, there is no reason why a child with asthma cannot take a full part in education and exercise.

Read more about living with asthma.

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