Asthma Asthma in Children

Asthma often starts during childhood when the immune system is still developing. Viral infections and exposure to allergens such as cigarette smoke as a young baby or child can raise your child’s risk of developing asthma. Having a parent with asthma (especially the mother) also raises a child’s risk. More boys than girls have asthma as children.

Diagnosing asthma in children younger than 6

It can be hard to tell whether a child under age 6 has asthma or another condition that affects breathing, because young children often cannot do the most common test for diagnosing asthma, a spirometry test. Instead, your child’s doctor will ask about your child’s medical history and symptoms. He or she may try asthma medicines for a few months to see how well your child responds.

Visit the asthma treatment page to learn about the different types of medicine used to treat asthma.

Boy using inhaler and holding ball

Around 4 out of 10 children who breathe with a whistling sound when they get colds or respiratory infections are later diagnosed with asthma.

Managing asthma in children

There is currently no cure for asthma in children. Your child’s doctor will help you learn to control it by avoiding triggers, giving medicine, and keeping an eye on symptoms.

Your child’s doctor will also work with you to develop an asthma action plan. This will help you know what triggers to avoid and what to do during an asthma attack. Give a copy of your child’s asthma action plan to school staff and other caregivers.

How to tell if your child’s asthma is not well-controlled

If your young child’s asthma is not well-controlled, you may notice that he or she is coughing more at night and eating less. Your child also may seem more tired, irritable, or moody.

When to call 9-1-1

For young children with asthma, call 9-1-1 if they:

  • Seem drowsy, confused, or troubled
  • Have a blue tint to the skin and lips
  • Have a fast heartbeat

If your child doesn’t have the symptoms above but is still having trouble breathing or is coughing, call your doctor right away. Plan to follow the child’s asthma action plan if possible.

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