Asthma is a chronic disease that causes swelling and inflammation in the lungs. Asthma is quite common: 26 million Americans have it.

Childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma are the same disease. They share many of the same symptoms, and similar medications are used to treat both types. However, children with asthma face different challenges than adult asthma patients do.

What Is Childhood Asthma?

According to the American Lung Association, 7.1 million children under 18 years of age have asthma. More than four million of those children experience an asthma attack each year. In fact, asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalizations among American children ages 15 and younger. Fortunately, asthma-related deaths in children are quite rare.

What Is Adult-Onset Asthma?

Asthma is common in childhood, but you can develop the disease at any point in your life. It’s not uncommon for people over the age of 50 to be diagnosed with the disease.

In more than 30 percent of adults with asthma, however, adult-onset asthma is actually allergy-induced asthma. This is asthma caused by exposure to allergens. Allergens are substances that are typically harmless but cause an immune reaction in people who are sensitive to them.

Allergies are common at all ages. Children with allergies may not experience asthma caused by exposure to allergens when they are younger. Over time, however, bodies begin reacting differently when the allergens enter the body. This can lead to adult-onset asthma.

What Do the Two Types Have in Common?

Doctors and researchers do not know exactly what causes a person to develop asthma. Allergies can cause asthma symptoms and an asthma flare. Studies suggest our genes may play a role, as well as our environment. The exact reasons why people develop asthma remain unclear. 

Childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma share many of the same triggers. For asthma patients of any age, exposure to one of these triggers can cause a flare or asthma attack:

  • smoke
  • mold and mildew
  • air pollution
  • feather bedding
  • dust mites
  • cockroaches
  • animal dander or saliva
  • respiratory infections or colds
  • cold temperatures
  • dry air
  • emotional stress or excitement
  • exercise 

Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous for children. As many as one million children with asthma experience more symptoms and flare-ups because they are exposed to secondhand smoke.

What Are the Differences?

Children diagnosed with asthma have intermittent symptoms. Sometimes allergens set off an asthma attack, and sometimes they do not.

With adults, however, symptoms are typically persistent. Daily treatments are often required in order to keep asthma symptoms and flares under control.

Children diagnosed with asthma may find that their asthma symptoms almost completely disappear or are less severe during puberty. Around age 20, they may find that their asthma symptoms reappear for a short period before disappearing again. This cycle of disappearing and reappearing symptoms may continue into a person’s 30s or 40s, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

What Treatments Are Used?

Both children and adults may use one or both of the most common asthma treatments. These treatments are quick-relief medications and long-term control medications. 

Quick-relief medications are designed to ease symptoms caused by an allergy attack or flare-up.

Long-term control medications are designed to ease inflammation and swelling for longer periods of time in order to prevent an allergy attack. Long-term control medications are typically taken daily for months, even years.

Most children and adults with asthma use a combination of these medicines in order to treat their asthma.

How to Know if Your Child Is Showing Asthma Symptoms

Asthma causes inflammation and narrowing in the airways. Narrowed airways cause chest tightness and difficulty breathing.

Other symptoms of asthma include:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • congestion
  • chest pain
  • increased mucus secretion in the airways
  • pressure in the chest
  • shortness of breath after physical activity
  • difficulty sleeping
  • delayed recovery from a respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold 

If you suspect your child’s symptoms are the result of asthma, make an appointment with their doctor. Untreated childhood asthma may have lasting impacts. For example, children with untreated asthma tend to have less stamina during exercise than children who do not have asthma. This may discourage children from being physically active. Asthmatic children, however, can and should be active. Many athletes with asthma are able to have successful athletic careers despite their condition.

Create an Asthma Action Plan

Both adults and children need to create an asthma action plan. This plan outlines what type of medicine you or your child should take and when. It also provides details for when a person’s asthma is dangerously out of control. These instructions help friends and relatives know when it’s time to seek emergency care for you or your child.

To make this plan, discuss your treatment options with your doctor. Outline at what point in your symptoms you increase your treatment measures to prevent an attack. Plan what you should do in the event of an asthma flare. Discuss what triggers can be avoided and the best ways to avoid them. Share this plan with friends, relatives, and any caregivers your children may have. Together, you will be able to successfully treat asthma and hopefully avoid future complications.