Our local communities have experienced a lot of respiratory illnesses over the past five months, and for some children, it’s led to an unexpected condition involving coughing and wheezing called viral-induced asthma.

Providers at Eugene Pediatric Associates are seeing a lot of kids experiencing the condition.

“They cough and cough for weeks after the illness is over,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “They cough at night, they cough when they are running or exercising, they cough when they are screaming or crying. Any time that their body would want a big easy breath, that’s when viral-induced asthma hits.”

How it occurs
It’s important for parents to be aware of how viral-induced asthma occurs and to recognize the symptoms so children can be treated appropriately.

Dr. Bradshaw says viral-induced asthma is not caused by allergies, which is typically seen in older kids and adults with asthma. Repeated exposure to respiratory viruses—including colds, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)—takes a toll on young lungs. Viral-induced asthma is more common in children younger than age 3 because their airways are smaller.

“Their lungs are literally tiny, just still developing and those little lungs get irritated and trigger the next time a virus comes around,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Most grow out of it
Children typically outgrow viral-induced asthma by the time they reach kindergarten. For most it is not a permanent condition, but it still requires treatment.

Viruses are one of the most common triggers for asthma attacks in both children and adults. Researchers estimate that up to 95% of asthma flare-ups in children and 75% to 80% in adults are linked to viral infections.

“Having a series of respiratory illnesses beats up your lungs,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “The next time you get another illness, it causes your lungs to be triggered to secrete lots of mucus, lots of phlegm and tightens the little muscles that keep the airways open. They start to tighten down and the cause of the cough is that your body is trying to open the airway and get rid of that mucus.”

Rescue inhaler can help
Viral-induced asthma does not improve with cough syrups or other over-the-counter remedies.

But there is help.

“If you give a child who has viral-induced asthma a rescue inhaler, it will immediately begin to cut their cough, allow them to sleep, allow them to exercise and run around outside in the cold air without having a cough,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “But also, more importantly, the next time their child gets a runny nose, before it gets down into their chest, they can grab for their medication and prevent it from sinking in and lasting for a week’s long cough.”

If you are concerned that your young child may have viral-induced asthma, be sure to talk with your pediatrician.