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This information was reviewed and approved by Ronina A. Covar, MD (6/1/2017).

How Does Asthma Develop?

The cause of asthma is unknown. However, we know that children are more likely to develop asthma if they have allergies or if one or both of their parents have asthma or allergies.

The cause of asthma is unknown. However, we know that children are more likely to develop asthma if they have allergies or if one or both of their parents have asthma or allergies.Asthma symptoms can develop at any age. The amount of difficulty a child has with asthma often changes with age. The airways of an infant/toddler can become obstructed more easily because of their smaller size. This age group can be prone to more noticeable symptoms. As the child’s airways grow larger, these symptoms may decrease.

Most children do not experience long-term physical effects of asthma. However, chronic and poorly-controlled asthma may have a slowing effect on growth and may result in reduced lung function as an adult. As with any chronic illness, there may be an emotional impact on children with asthma. Emotions such as anger, fear, inferiority, depression and guilt may be experienced.


How Is Asthma Diagnosed?

The first step in diagnosing asthma is a good evaluation. In many cases, a diagnosis of asthma is made based upon your child’s history and symptoms at the time of evaluation.

With a younger child, recurrent episodes may be experienced before an actual diagnosis of asthma is made. The family history and the child’s allergy history should also be considered, as these increase the child’s chances of developing asthma.

Your child’s doctor may have your child do a number of tests to evaluate breathing. These may include:

  • Detailed medical history and physical exam

  • Spirometry (breathing tests)

  • Chest X-rays

  • Skin tests

Your child’s doctor may order other tests based on the history and physical exam.


When to Test for Asthma

Many children see their family doctor or pediatrician for asthma care. You and your child’s doctor may choose to have your child seen by a specialist, such as a pediatric allergist or pediatric pulmonologist (lung specialist).

We recommend this if any one of the following occurs:

  • Severe asthma episode

  • Several visits to urgent care or emergency room or hospitalization during the last year

  • Conditions that complicate asthma such as chronic sinusitis, nasal polyps or vocal cord dysfunction

  • Frequent treatment with steroid tablets or syrup

  • Confusion with the diagnosis

  • Allergies are being considered

  • Asthma seems to be getting worse

  • Poor or no response to medications


No matter what type of doctor you establish a partnership with to provide your child’s asthma care, it is important to ask the following:

  • What is the doctor’s overall philosophy about asthma and treatment?

  • Does the doctor or office staff take time to explain what is happening with your child, provide education and answer your questions?

  • Will the doctor work with you to develop an Asthma Action Plan to treat an asthma episode?

In evaluating your child’s progress, remember that asthma is a chronic condition that will change in course from time to time. If you feel that your child is not making progress with his or her current treatment, let your child’s doctor know your concerns. If things are not going well, ask your child’s doctor about seeing a specialist. You should not feel embarrassed about asking for another opinion.

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