Henry Bernstein, MD, Harvard Health

Q: I'm afraid my 18-month-old twins are going to develop asthma and/or allergies. My husband and his father have asthma, and my mother and I both have seasonal allergies. What are some signs of asthma or allergies in children this young?

A: Asthma is the most common chronic childhood disease in the United States.

A child with asthma has repeated asthma "attacks" during which air cannot get in and out of the lungs the way it normally does. This usually happens when a child with asthma is exposed to some "trigger."

Asthma triggers can include:

--Viruses (such as the common cold)

--An allergen (such as pollens or animal dander)

--An irritant (such as cigarette smoke)


--Cold air

Symptoms of asthma may include:

--Whistling noises when breathing out (wheezing)

--Dry cough, especially at night

--Breathing faster than usual (tachypnea)

--Having a hard time breathing

--Feeling tightness in the chest

--Having a hard time exercising or playing

--Stopping to take a breath between words when speaking

--Trouble sleeping

Asthma and allergies often occur together. Half of all people with asthma appear to be affected by allergies, as well. Many of the symptoms are similar.

Allergic rhinitis is a reaction of the nose (and throat and eyes sometimes) in people who are allergic to things in the air such as pollen, mold and dust. It is most often seen in children with other allergy-related conditions such as eczema or asthma, or those who have family members with allergies.

Symptoms of allergies in young kids include:

--Runny or stuffy nose

--Itchy nose or eyes

--Breathing through the mouth

--Dry cough

--Irritated or itchy skin, sometimes with redness or rash

--Frequent sneezing

--Sinus congestion and pressure

The connection between genetics and asthma or allergies is not clear. It is true, however, that kids with parents who have allergies or asthma are more likely to have allergies and asthma compared with kids whose parents are allergy or asthma-free.

Henry H. Bernstein, D.O., is a senior lecturer in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor at Harvard Health Publications. Dr. Bernstein is chief of General Academic Pediatrics at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School.)


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Health - Asthma and Allergies Can Run in Families