Viral infections are the most common asthma triggers in adults and children. A viral wheeze in toddlers is different than asthma, although some children with the condition eventually develop asthma.

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Asthma is a chronic respiratory illness. It affects your lungs and makes it harder to breathe. People with asthma may experience asthma exacerbations, or “attacks.” Pollen, dust, mold, exercise, and viruses can trigger an asthma attack.

Viral-induced (or simply viral) asthma is an attack caused by a viral infection.

Although not everyone is familiar with this type of trigger, viruses are one of the most common reasons for asthma attacks in 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.

Read this article to learn more about viral-induced asthma in kids and adults, including its mechanisms, symptoms, treatment, and prevention tips.

Viruses that can trigger an asthma episode are usually well-known respiratory bugs. These include:

Researchers don’t yet know the exact mechanism by which certain viruses can cause an asthma attack. Many believe that chronic asthma damages the cells that protect your respiratory tract, making your airways more susceptible to infection. This, in turn, can further worsen the damage to your airways, causing an asthma attack.

Learn more about how asthma affects your respiratory system.

The symptoms of viral-induced asthma are similar to those caused by other asthma triggers. They include early and late symptoms.

Early asthma symptoms include:

Late symptoms of an asthma attack are more severe and can be life threatening. They include:

How long does viral asthma last?

Viral-induced asthma can last longer than other asthma attacks. It can sometimes take days before you start feeling better, especially if left untreated.

Quick-relief (or rescue) asthma medications usually ease the symptoms quickly.

You can treat symptoms of viral asthma the same way you manage other types of asthma attacks. Asthma medications include:

The following viruses usually cause viral asthma in children:

These viruses can cause bronchiolitis, or inflammation in the smallest air passages in your lungs called “bronchioles.” Bronchiolitis is the most common respiratory infection and the most common culprit of viral asthma in babies.

Severe cough during a respiratory infection is the most frequent symptom of viral asthma in children.

Not all asthma medications are appropriate for children. For example, most biologics are approved only for children over age 12.

Viral wheeze is a lung infection with symptoms similar to a common cold. It’s more common in children younger than age 3 because their airways are smaller. It’s different from bronchiolitis, although the same viruses can cause it.

The main symptom of this condition is wheezing, or an audible, whistle-like sound your child makes while breathing. It may sound like asthma, but it’s a different condition. However, some children who had viral wheeze will go on to develop asthma as they get older.

Doctors usually treat viral wheezing with some asthma medications, such as albuterol.

When to see a doctor

An asthma attack can be life threatening. Seek emergency medical care if you have trouble breathing that lasts a few minutes, especially if it’s accompanied by at least one of the following symptoms:

If you have asthma, you should see your doctor at least once a year and even more often if you have symptoms.

The best way to prevent viral-induced asthma attacks is to follow routines to prevent spreading respiratory infections. These include:

A viral-induced asthma attack is a frequent complication of respiratory infections in people with chronic asthma. Its symptoms are similar to those caused by other asthma triggers but may last longer.

People usually treat viral asthma with rescue inhalers. In addition, long-term asthma medication may help prevent future asthma attacks.

Viral asthma attacks are common in children with chronic asthma. They can be a complication of bronchiolitis.

The most effective way to prevent viral asthma is to practice respiratory infection prevention techniques.