Do Allergies Cause Asthma in Children?

Young girl sneezing after battling with allergies.

In the United States alone, approximately 4.5 million children suffer from asthma. The severity of the condition can vary, and whether a child will suffer from the illness in adulthood can depend on a number of factors. Still, it’s important to ask why asthma even develops at all. A commonly held belief is that it might have something to do with a child’s allergies, but is that the case? Below, you’ll learn more about the condition, how it can impact your child’s life, and where to turn for a reliable pediatric asthma doctor.

Understanding Asthma in Children

Generally speaking, asthma is a chronic condition that affects the airways in the lungs. Pediatric asthma doctors recommend watching out for the following signs as a way of determining whether your child may have asthma:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing, especially early in the morning or late at night
  • Shortness of breath

These symptoms usually follow a pattern, including coming and going within the same day or over time. They also tend to be worse at night or in the morning. And colds or other viral infections can exacerbate them.

There are two main forms of asthma: intermittent and persistent. Intermittent asthma involves an individual’s symptoms coming and going and feeling fine in between flare-ups. Persistent asthma, however, is when a person experiences symptoms most of the time.

Asthma Attacks

Whether they have intermittent or persistent asthma, when someone with the condition (in this case, your child) breathes normally, the muscles that rest along their neck are relaxed, allowing air to flow evenly and easily. When they have an asthma attack, however, a few things happen that affect the process.
The first thing that occurs is a bronchospasm. The muscles around the airways tighten, narrowing the passages and not allowing air to flow freely.

Inflammation then begins as the lining of the airways swells. The result is a lack of air coming in and out of the child’s lungs.

The body then creates mucus, which further clogs the airways. Because of this constriction, you might hear your child making wheezing sounds when they breathe.

Causes of Pediatric Asthma

Asthma often begins during childhood because the immune system is still developing. The body’s immune system fights infections, but it can also respond to stimuli when breathing, like pollen, mold, smoke, and other fumes and toxins in the air. In a child with asthma, the immune system goes into overdrive, reacting with inflammation.

Family history can play a significant role in knowing whether a child will develop asthma. Close relatives who have asthma, especially parents, make it much more likely for a child to develop the condition, too.

Some children may also struggle with symptoms after exercise, as they’ll have to breathe in more quickly through their mouths. As a result, cold, dry air travels down their airways, which can irritate them and cause inflammation.

What About Allergies?

Allergies themselves don’t cause asthma, but a child who suffers from them has a much greater chance of suffering from asthma as well. The same substances that trigger an allergic reaction, like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and more, can lead to symptoms akin to asthma.

An allergic reaction occurs when immune system proteins identify an innocuous substance, like pollen, as a threat. In an attempt to protect the body, the immune system creates proteins, known as antibodies, that bind with the allergen.

The resulting reaction releases chemicals, including histamines, into the body, triggering symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, or skin reactions. However, a child’s response to the production of histamines can also impact their airways, leading to asthma-like symptoms.

Diagnosing and Managing Pediatric Asthma

If your child displays signs of asthma, the most important thing you can do is take them to a pediatric asthma doctor for an evaluation.

The doctor will review your child’s medical and family history, gather a list of all the signs and symptoms your child has experienced, and may order some tests. For children five or older, these may include a spirometry test. A spirometer is a device that checks lung function and monitors how much air a child breathes out.

Your child’s primary healthcare provider might also perform some allergy tests. These won’t diagnose asthma, but they can help you and your child understand what could trigger an asthma attack.

Your approach to treating asthma will depend on the severity of your child’s condition. Your child’s pediatric asthma doctor may prescribe bronchodilators, medicines that help relax the airways so air can move more freely. They also make it easier for mucus to move through the passages.

Anti-inflammatory medicines may also prove effective because they reduce mucus production and limit swelling. Your child’s doctor may prescribe them daily to help prevent asthma symptoms.

Although asthma attacks can’t be entirely prevented, you and your family can do things to help your child avoid these flare-ups. These include keeping a living space free of dust, pollen, and other irritants. And if there’s someone in the family who smokes, having them do so away from your child is essential. During significant asthma flare-ups, your child might need oral or injectable steroids for quick relief. Asthma control medications tend to include inhaled steroids, which help reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms. A pediatric asthma doctor can also combine inhalers with a long-acting bronchodilator for extended treatment.

Above all else, though, you’ll want to take the time to sit down with your child and explain the condition to them. In doing so, they’ll know what may trigger their symptoms and what to do if they notice signs of an asthma attack.

Turn to Newport Children’s Medical Group

If your child has experienced difficulties breathing or you’ve noticed any of the signs of an asthma attack listed above, the best thing you can do is reach out to a pediatric asthma doctor. At Newport Children’s Medical Group, we offer the guidance you need to help your child manage their condition. Contact us today to get started.