Asthma may occur in either children or adults. They share some similar qualities, but they also have some distinct differences.

Asthma is a chronic condition that directly affects the airways. It leads to inflammation in the airways, which causes narrowing that makes it difficult to breathe.

Both children and adults can develop asthma, but many people associate the condition with children.

Both adult and childhood onset asthma share similar symptoms and treatments, but they do differ in some important ways, including severity, chance of remission, and chance of death.

Asthma affects about 1 in 13 people in the United States, including both children and adults.

Childhood- and adult-onset asthma share several similar traits, but they also have some differences.


Adult-onset and childhood-onset share some of the following features:

  • Symptoms: Common symptoms in both children- and adult-onset asthma include wheezing, cough that produces mucus or phlegm, shortness of breath, and tightness in the chest. In both cases, symptom severity can vary.
  • Treatments: Common treatment methods for children and adults include fast-acting inhalers, long-term control inhalers, and taking steps to avoid triggers.
  • Heavy disease burden: Both childhood- and adult-onset asthma account for significant medical costs as well as missed time from school or work.


Several differences can occur between adult and childhood-onset asthma. Some key differences include:

  • Symptom persistence: Children have a higher chance of developing symptoms that come and go. Adults have a higher likelihood of developing symptoms that become chronic and long lasting. By contrast, almost 50% of all children experience a reduction in symptoms or complete remission by adulthood.
  • Gender risk: Females have a higher chance of developing adult-onset asthma, while males have a higher chance of developing childhood-onset asthma.
  • Risk of death: Adults are six times more likely to die from asthma than children.
  • Number of people diagnosed: About 66% of all asthma cases get diagnosed before the age of 18. However, roughly half of all adults diagnosed with asthma have adult-onset asthma.

Adult-onset asthma is, in general, associated with increased disease severity. It’s less likely to lessen or go into remission. It’s also associated with a higher risk of death compared to childhood-onset asthma.

Several factors can affect severity in both children and adults. For adults, factors that can increase severity include:

  • obesity
  • low socioeconomic status
  • smoking
  • eosinophilia (overabundance of a type of white blood cells in the blood)
  • high allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) levels
  • elevated FeNO levels — measured in an asthma test, high levels indicate irritated or inflamed airways

In children, factors that affect severity can include:

  • medication use
  • asthma duration
  • neutrophilic phenotype — neutrophils play an important part in the innate immune system
  • overall lung function
  • racial or ethnic minorities
  • low socioeconomic status

Consider seeing a doctor if you or your child develop trouble breathing, a persistent cough, or tightness in your chest.

Though these could be signs of asthma, they may also indicate an infection or other issues. A doctor can help determine the cause.

If you or your child have asthma and notice an increase in symptom severity or frequency, discuss the changes with a doctor. They may have suggestions to update your treatment plan.

The following sections provide answers to some frequently asked questions about asthma.

How does childhood asthma affect adults?

Adults who developed asthma in childhood often experience a decrease in the severity of symptoms and may enter full remission.

When asthma develops in an adult, it’s more likely to become chronic and not reduce in severity. It also has a higher risk of death associated with the condition.

Can childhood asthma be outgrown by adulthood?

About 50% of children with asthma will outgrow the condition or experience improved symptoms in adulthood. If a child does not outgrow asthma, they will need to continue treatments and discuss changes to their treatment plan with a doctor.

Childhood asthma and adult-onset asthma share some similar symptoms, treatments, and disease burden.

Childhood-onset asthma has a high chance of improving or going into remission by adulthood. It’s also more common in males and has an overall reduced risk of death associated with the condition.

Adult-onset asthma has a lower chance of remission. It affects biological females more frequently. Compared with childhood-onset asthma, it’s also associated with a higher risk of death.