Asthma is the third major cause of hospitalization in children under age 15. The condition can be very serious in children, particularly those younger than age 5, because their airways are very narrow.
Risk Factors for Life-Threatening Asthma
Asthma death rates have steadily declined, and asthma is now only rarely fatal in children. Even low mortality numbers are unacceptable, however, since asthma deaths are largely preventable.
Factors associated with an increased risk of death from asthma in children include:
- Previous life-threatening episodes of asthma
- Two or more hospitalizations or more than three emergency visits in the past year
- Using two or more short-acting beta2-agonist inhalers per month
- Lack of adequate and ongoing health care. (Most likely the reason for the higher fatalities rates in minority children.)
- Significant behavioral or psychosocial problems
- Underestimating the severity of an acute attack poses the greatest threat
African-American children have more than six times the death rate of Caucasians in the age groups of 4 years and younger and 15 - 24 years. Hispanic children also have a higher risk.
Asthma generally improves as children get older, although most school-age children with persistent asthma will still experience symptoms through adolescence. Some children outgrow their asthma by adulthood. In general, the more severe the childhood asthma, the greater the likelihood that it will persist.
Severe asthma can cause long-lasting damage and possibly permanent scarring in some patients. The risk for such injury is highest when asthma strikes children in their first 3 - 5 years. There does not appear to be any significant risk for long-term lung damage for children who develop mild-to-moderate persistent asthma between ages 5 - 12. Children adapt well to living with asthma, and even with severe asthma they can function as well as healthy children in virtually all areas of life.
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.