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Hope and Health

Your source to help with your family's health from WVU Medicine Children's

Hope & Health
Articles and Updates from WVU Medicine Children's

05/2/2024 | Callum Lewandrowski, DO

Does My Child Have Asthma or Allergies?

What are Asthma and Allergies?


Asthma is a chronic lung disease consisting of inflammation, mucus production, and muscle contractions in the airways of the lung. All of this leads to the airways becoming obstructed, which makes it harder to breathe.

Although the underlying cause of asthma is very complex and only partially understood, we do know the common triggers. Inhaled allergens, such as pollen, dust, and pet dander, can exacerbate asthma in many, but not all, asthma patients. These allergens are very small and can be inhaled deep into the lungs where they cause allergic reactions and inflammation.

It is very rare for food allergies to trigger asthma.

Other common triggers include respiratory tract infections, exercise, and irritants such as smoke and fragrances. Asthma can cause children to miss school or limit sports participation. If severe enough, attacks may require emergency room visits and hospital admission. Rare attacks can even be life threatening.

Environmental Allergies

Allergic rhinitis is the medical term for seasonal or environmental allergies in the nose.

Similar to what is described above, inhaled particles such as pollen, dust, and pet dander get caught in the nasal passages and result in allergic reactions. This causes inflammation and mucus secretion, causing a congested and runny nose.

The particles can also cause reactions in the eyes. When this happens, it is called allergic conjunctivitis.

Like with asthma, it is very rare for food allergies to cause allergic rhinitis or conjunctivitis.

How Common is It?


Though the exact prevalence of asthma in children is not known, it is believed that about 4 percent of children under four years of age have asthma in the United States. This increases to about 8 percent at five-to-11 years and 10 percent at 12-17 years.

Environmental Allergies

Environmental allergies are even more common, affecting about 10-to-30 percent of children and adults in the Unites States.

What Should I Watch For?


Asthma can look very different depending on the person.

Usually, it shows up as wheezing, coughing, and trouble breathing. You may or may not hear the wheezing even if it is present. Some kids may go months without symptoms, only flaring up when sick or around their allergens and irritants. Others may have symptoms all the time.

Coughing is usually worse at night, often waking people up in the early morning. Some asthma patients only notice a chronic cough, although many other conditions can also cause chronic coughing.

Environmental Allergies

Allergic rhinitis usually causes a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, postnasal drip, and sometimes cough. Allergic conjunctivitis can cause itchy, watery, puffy, and occasionally red eyes.

Allergic rhinitis and conjunctivitis can occur alone or together, and symptoms differ from person to person.

In general, symptoms will worsen during allergy seasons or when around allergens. Tree and grass pollens peak in spring, whereas weed pollens (such as ragweed or goldenrod) peak in late summer and fall. Mold spores, which are very common outside, peak in late fall and early winter.

Dust mite and animal dander are often year-round but tend to worsen in winter, when we spend more time inside. If mold is present in the house, it can follow a similar pattern.

What Should I Do?

If you are concerned you or your child may have asthma or allergies, the most important step is to talk to your primary care provider. Many conditions mimic both allergies and asthma, so it’s important to be evaluated.

Patients with asthma are often given albuterol inhalers or nebulizers as a rescue medication. However, albuterol is only an emergency medicine meant to open the airway and does not treat the underlying condition.

Other medications, such as inhaled steroids, are usually required to decrease potentially life-threatening exacerbations and improve overall lung function.

If asthma or allergies are suspected, your primary care provider may feel comfortable managing the condition themselves or may send you to see a specialist.

Allergists and immunologists treat both conditions, sometimes in conjunction with other specialties. Allergies can be diagnosed with skin or blood testing, but testing is not always necessary. Lung function testing may also be considered to determine asthma severity and for long-term monitoring, but it can be very difficult in young children.

If you suspect your child is suffering from allergies or asthma, call 855-WVU-CARE (2273) to schedule an appointment.

About the Author

Callum Lewandrowski, DO, is a fellow of Allergy and Immunology at WVU Medicine Children’s. He grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland, and first discovered a passion for healthcare and science by helping with his mother’s non-profit, Owl Moon Raptor Center, where he helped rehabilitate injured birds of prey.

Callum received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. Afterward, his love of adventure sports, such as whitewater kayaking, caving, hiking, and backpacking, led him to continue his studies at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. He flourished in this environment and decided to continue his medical training at West Virginia University, where he completed his Internal Medicine-Pediatric Residency.

Callum remains at WVU as the inaugural Allergy and Immunology fellow. When he is not studying or working, he continues to enjoy adventure sports, as well as creative writing, music, blacksmithing, and simply spending time with his many animals.

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