Asthma Asthma in Children

Asthma usually starts during childhood, when the body’s natural defense system is still developing. Viral infections and exposure to allergens such as cigarette smoke can raise your child’s risk of developing asthma. Having a parent who has asthma (especially a mother) also raises a child’s risk. More boys than girls have asthma as children.

Children can have different asthma symptoms compared to adults:

  • Children may cough in their sleep or wake up often.
  • They may avoid energetic activities to prevent symptoms. This means they may not run, play, or laugh as hard as other children.
  • They can get tired quickly. They may ask to be carried during walks and may seem more irritable.


asthma in kids infographic

Asthma in Kids

Learn how asthma looks in children and how you can help your child with asthma live a full and active life.

Diagnosing asthma in young children

It can be hard to tell whether a child under age 6 has asthma or another condition that affects breathing. Young children often cannot do the most common diagnostic test for asthma, a spirometry test. Instead, your child’s healthcare provider will want to know about your child’s medical history and symptoms. If you think your child is wheezing, you can record their breathing on a smartphone to help your provider confirm the symptom. They may recommend trying asthma medicines for a few months to see how well your child responds.

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 no cure for asthma, but you can take steps to manage it. Your child’s healthcare provider will help you learn to control it by keeping your child away from triggers, giving medicine, and keeping an eye on symptoms.

Your child's healthcare provider will also work with you to develop an asthma action plan for your child. 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 they are coughing more at night and eating less. Your child may also 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 child's healthcare provider right away. Follow your child's asthma action plan  if possible.

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