Childhood Asthma Vs. Adult Asthma – Is There a Difference?

One of the most common health problems in the United States today is asthma. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), approximately 25 million people in North America are affected by this breathing disorder[1]. Asthma affects sufferers in very individualized ways. For some, asthma is nothing more than a slight irritation. For others, a severe asthma attack could be deadly.

Although asthma is common in both children and adults, it is important to understand the difference between childhood asthma and adult asthma. Adulthood/adult-onset asthma is characterized by chronic coughing, congestion, wheezing and breathing troubles. Childhood asthma has similar symptoms although generally they usually flare up less often than in adults. In some patients, their asthma symptoms are reduced or completely disappear as they get older (usually after puberty or in their early 20’s).

Types of Asthma Conditions

Asthma conditions can be broadly classified into three major categories:

  1. Allergic Asthma
  2. Non-allergic Asthma
  3. Cough-variant Asthma

Allergic asthma – Allergens (such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and pet dander) trigger asthma attacks by releasing certain antibodies that lead to swelling or irritation in the airway, causing classic asthma symptoms: constant coughing, wheezing, pressure or pain in the chest, and/or difficulty breathing.

This type of asthma is diagnosed by performing blood or skin tests, and treatments include rescue inhalers (short-acting bronchodilators), inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting bronchodilators, and/or immunotherapy.

Non-allergic asthma – non-allergens (like viruses, smoke particles, irritants in cleaning products, perfumes, and aerosol products) can also lead to asthma and trigger asthma classic symptoms. Non-allergic asthma can also be triggered in patients who experience multiple/repeated upper-respiratory infections (like bronchitis). Common symptoms mimic allergic asthma and include incessant coughing (especially while sleeping, exercise, or laughing), wheezing, breathlessness, and/or tightness in the chest. Non-allergic asthma can also be diagnosed and treated with the same tests & therapies as allergic asthma.

Cough-variant asthma –This type of asthma is generally identified by a persistent and dry cough and may (or may not) involve common asthma symptoms, like shortness of breath and/or wheezing. Although an exact cause(s) has not been determined, it can be a result of atopic dermatitis or atopic march (an antibody response where the immune system continuously identifies new foreign substances as harmful – especially in children).

Common Triggers that Cause Asthma Symptoms in Both Children & Adults

There are common triggers that will often cause an allergic reaction in both children and adults, such as:

  • Allergens
  • Mold
  • Smoke
  • Animal dander
  • Dust mites
  • Fragrances
  • Certain food items (milk, eggs, soy, wheat, fish, etc.)
  • Food additives
  • Chemicals (such as isocyanates, used in spray paints)
  • Exercise
  • Cold weather/temperature

Some acute illnesses like flu, sinusitis, mild/severe upper respiratory infection, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and medications (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, beta-blockers, naproxen sodium, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can also trigger an asthma attack.

It is important to understand these are just commonly observed triggers. In some cases, the causes may be different or unknown. Only an asthma specialist or allergist can identify the exact trigger for an individual after conducting a complete examination and developing a diagnosis.

How is Childhood & Adult-Onset Asthma Different?

Childhood asthma is commonly known to occur more often in males before they reach puberty, commonly goes into remission after puberty or in young adulthood, and rarely causes asthma attacks severe enough to cause death. In general, asthma symptoms in children do not flare up as often as in adults and they often outgrow the condition.

Genetic factors are a common reason that asthma develops in children, and asthmatic parents have a high probability of transferring this condition to their children. A mother’s health during pregnancy can determine the onset of asthma in that child. Certain dietary deficiencies (vitamin E, zinc, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, etc.), alcohol consumption, and/or smoking during the pregnancy are several factors that are known to trigger childhood asthma.

Adult-onset asthma, on the other hand, is known to be more prevalent with females, rarely goes into remission, and death from severe asthma attacks is much more common than in children. Adult-onset asthma often requires daily medication/treatments to keep from flaring up, can be carried over from childhood, get triggered by various allergens or environmental elements, or simply acquired. For obvious reasons, smoking is also a major cause of adult-onset asthma.

According to WebMD, “Adults tend to have a lower forced expiratory volume (the volume of air you are able to take in and forcibly exhale in one second) after middle age because of changes in muscles and stiffening of chest walls.” This adds additional physical and emotional pressure on those with adult-onset asthma as an asthmatic condition is more physically taxing on adults than it is on children because of these physiological changes that come with aging[2].

Asthma Diagnosis & Treatment – Integra Urgent Care

If you (or your child) are suffering from breathing problems or asthmatic symptoms, the healthcare providers at Integra Urgent Care can help stabilize you by opening your airways, allowing you to gain fuller breaths, and get more oxygen into your system. When you arrive at one of our walk-in medical centers, a healthcare provider will conduct a physical examination of your nose, throat, and chest. If symptoms of asthma are detected, several diagnostic tests can be run to confirm a diagnosis.

Classification of Asthma

There are four categories of asthma:

  • Mild Intermittent Asthma
  • Mild Persistent Asthma
  • Moderate Persistent Asthma
  • Severe Persistent Asthma

Mild Intermittent Asthma – Occurs occasionally (less than 2 days a week) and has minimum effect on a person’s day-to-day activities. Can be managed with an inhaler, whenever required.

Mild Persistent Asthma –Occurs with increased severity(more than 2 days a week). Often, night-time symptoms affect sleep cycles and can affect a person’s day-to-day activities. Inhalers are required more often.

Moderate Persistent Asthma –Occurs daily(including regular night time symptoms)Patients are required to use inhalers regularly to manage condition.

Severe Persistent Asthma –Occurs almost constantly throughout the day with more frequency in night-time breathlessness. This category requires medication along with the use of inhalers, several times a day. Can cause mental and physical distress as normal daily activities are severely affected.

Risk Factors & Complications Associated with Asthma

There are several risk factors that make people more prone to developing an asthmatic condition. These risk factors include:

  • Allergies – Indoor allergens like cockroaches, dust mites, mold, fungi, and animal feathers or hair are directly linked with asthma.
  • Environmental Factors –Excessive exposure to cigarette smoke, chemicals and irritants found in cleaning products/paints or other toxins in a working/living environment can also lead to asthma problems.
  • Obesity –The accumulation of the fat in the body is believed to affect all vital organs of the body including the lungs, contributing to asthma.

Asthma also leads to complications in several functions of the body, including:

Deterioration of the lungs–Asthma negatively affects the overall functioning of the lungs which minimizes the oxygen supply. Low oxygen levels in the body causes damage to other parts of the body.

Sleeping disorders – Continuous coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath leads to sleeplessness in many asthmatic patients that negatively impacts their sleep cycle, mental state, and physical performance during day-to-day activities.

Weakness – Lack of sufficient oxygen and sleep ultimately leads to fatigue more easily with asthma sufferers, impacting all areas of their lives: mental, emotional, and physical.

Tips for the Prevention of Asthma

Here are several ways to stay proactive in the prevention of asthma:

  • Exercise – Physical activity/exercise and breathing exercises
  • Healthy diet – A nutritious diet to minimize inflammation
  • Avoiding allergens – Be aware of triggering allergens and try to avoid
  • Air purifiers – Filtering and purifying polluted air to alleviate toxic conditions
  • No smoking – Don’t start or quit if you have.
  • Don’t avoid breathing problems – If you experience shortness of breath or abnormal coughing, do not neglect it. See a specialist for an examination and diagnosis.

If you are experiencing asthma like symptoms or have asthma and are needing immediate medical care for an asthma attack, Integra Urgent Care offers acute asthma treatments for patients at our three clinics in the DFW area: Las Colinas, Weatherford, and Grand Prairie. We are open 7 days a week (Weekdays – 8 AM to 8 PM; Weekends – 9 AM to 5 PM) to serve you. We are in-network with most major insurance providers, and offer online check-in and telemedicine visits. To schedule an appointment, visit us online at: https://integrauc.com/ or call our clinics directly:


[1] Asthma Facts | AAFA.org
[2] Adult-Onset Asthma Symptoms, Treatments, Causes, Types, and Health Tools (webmd.com)

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