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Asthma 101: Symptoms, Triggers & Risk Factors

Did you know that asthma causes more than 13.8 million days of missed school each year and is the third leading cause of children’s hospitalization? It’s true, more than 26 million Americans are living with asthma, 6.1 million of those being children. Because asthma is so common, we thought it was important to share the basics of this disease to help nurses and families better understand how it impacts children.


According to the American Lung Association, asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. Asthma can start at any age and has the potential to be life-threatening. While there is unfortunately no cure for asthma, it is absolutely possible to live a normal, healthy life.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • A tight feeling in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing or wheezing


Those diagnosed with asthma will find that they have certain “triggers” which causes their asthma to flare up and potentially cause an asthma attack. A trigger could be any thing, activity or condition that makes asthma worse. Examples include:

  • Medical conditions like a cold, flu or sinus infection.
  • Allergies to foods and medicines such as peanuts, shellfish or aspirin.
  • Smoke such as cigarette smoke or smoke from a fireplace or campfire.
  • Weather conditions such as storms, extreme temperature changes, humidity or weeds, trees and grass.
  • Allergies to animals and pests such as birds, cats, dogs, dust mites or rodents.
  • Exercise such as walking, swimming or other sports.
  • Emotions and stress that increase rapid breathing.
  • Strong odors such as cleaning products, scented candles, hairspray, or air fresheners.

If someone with asthma isn’t sure what their triggers are, they can ask their doctor for an allergy test.


As is true with most diseases, there are factors that increase the chance of developing asthma, such as:

  • Family history – if your parent has asthma, you’re three to six times more likely to develop asthma too.
  • Viral respiratory infections – infections can lead to chronic asthma.
  • Allergies –allergic conditions such as eczema or hay fever can cause asthma.
  • Smoking – cigarette smoke irritates the airways and children whose mother’s smoked during pregnancy or who were exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk for asthma.
  • Air pollution – those that grow up or live in urban areas have a higher risk of developing asthma.
  • Obesity - some experts point to low-grade inflammation in the body that occurs with extra weight as a factor for developing asthma.

Children should be prepared to manage their asthma at school by knowing how to self-administer their quick-relief inhaler. Parents and nurses can also help children create an Asthma Action Plan and make sure they understand their triggers and symptoms.

Click here to shop MacGill’s selection of asthma products.

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