Asthma – Causes, symptoms, diagnosis

What is asthma, and what causes it?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition in which airways become inflamed, leading to mucus production, airway obstruction and muscle contraction. No one is sure what causes asthma and although there is no cure, some children will grow out of it. Preventative steps can be taken to avoid triggers and lessen symptoms. Common triggers include: viral illness, allergies, cold air, emotional upset, exercise and inhaled irritants (especially second-hand cigarette smoke).

What are common asthma symptoms?

Asthma symptoms vary by age and are often worse at night or early in the morning. Babies often cough, wheeze or breathe loudly, breathe fast, flare their nostrils like a bunny, labor to breathe (muscles between the ribs heave with each breath), stop eating, become agitated or look worried.

Older children and adults often complain of chest tightness, chest pain, inability to exercise, cough, shortness or breath, or wheezy breathing. Recurrent episodes of pneumonia also should raise the suspicion of undiagnosed asthma.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma is a clinical diagnosis made by your child’s doctor based on a history of multiple episodes of wheezing, cough, or pneumonia responsive to asthma therapies. Although chest X-rays, lab tests, spirometry (measurement of lung function), allergy testing, or imaging of the intestinal tract or heart may help exclude other medical conditions, there is no single test that proves the presence of asthma.

If your family has a strong history of asthma, allergies, or eczema (an allergic skin condition), your child has a much higher likelihood of developing asthma or allergies. Please contact Eugene Pediatric Associates if you believe your child may have undiagnosed asthma.


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The third leading cause of child hospitalizations, asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases afflicting children in the United States. It is also one of the top reasons why children miss school and make trips to the pediatrician, urgent care and emergency room.