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Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways and lungs. In asthma, the lungs and airways are sensitive to certain “triggers." When your child is exposed to these triggers, their airway lining swells, the airways make thicker-than-normal mucus, and the muscles around the airways get tight. This makes the airways narrower and makes it difficult for your child to breathe.

Triggers may include:

  • Viral infections, such as a cold or the flu
  • Sinusitis
  • Irritants or allergens, including:
    • Smoke
    • Pet dander
    • Smog or air pollution
    • Pollen
    • Dust
    • Chemicals
    • Mildew
    • Perfume
  • Exercise
  • Cold weather
  • Strong emotions, such as anxiety or stress
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Certain medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen

An asthma attack is what it's called when your child is exposed to a trigger and has this reaction. Asthma attacks vary in intensity. Mild asthma attacks may be an annoyance. Severe asthma attacks can be frightening and even life-threatening. Serious asthma complications are possible if the condition isn't managed well. 

Causes of Pediatric Asthma

Asthma is caused by a combination of factors. Sometimes, we know the cause, like when asthma runs in families. Other times, we're able to pinpoint an environmental cause. But often, the exact cause or combination of causes is not known.

Children are more likely to develop pediatric asthma if:

  • There are family members with asthma
  • They’re exposed to smoke or other indoor or outdoor air pollution
  • They have allergies or other health problems, such as being overweight

The symptoms of asthma vary and can include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing (may be constant)
  • Shortness of breath or other trouble breathing with activity
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Difficulty keeping up with peers

Asthma Diagnosis & Treatment at UVA Health Children's

Your child’s healthcare provider may partner with a pulmonologist (a doctor that specializes in treating the lungs). At UVA Health Children's, your child’s provider may perform or recommend:

  • Spirometry (to check how well your child’s lung work)
  • Peak flow monitoring (to measure the amount of air your child can blow out of the lungs)
  • Chest imaging
  • Allergy tests

Treatment for asthma depends on the symptoms and how severe the condition is. An important part of treating and managing asthma is identifying your child’s triggers and avoiding them. Treatment may also include:

  • Bronchodilators (help open the narrowed airway)
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines (decrease inflammation)
  • Anti-leukotrienes (also help open the airways)
  • Immunotherapy

We will work with your child’s healthcare provider to find the best way to manage your child’s asthma.