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What's Causing My Child's Shortness of Breath: Allergies or Asthma?

What's Causing My Child's Shortness of Breath: Allergies or Asthma?

Asthma and allergies rank among the most prevalent chronic conditions affecting children. Asthma affects approximately 6.5% of children under age 18 and nearly 19% of children have a seasonal allergy

Given that both these conditions impact a child's airways, it's not uncommon for some symptoms to overlap. This overlap can pose a challenge in determining whether your child is experiencing asthma, allergies, or a combination of both.

Here at First Pediatric Care Center in Gastonia, North Carolina, we see many pediatric patients with allergies and asthma. Here’s what Dr. Margaret Lubega considers when making a diagnosis. 

Understanding allergies

Allergies are common, and they affect both children and adults. Allergy symptoms occur when the immune system reacts to allergens – or triggers – such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or certain foods. When your child is exposed to an allergen, their body releases chemicals like histamine, which can lead to various symptoms, including:

Allergies can sometimes cause shortness of breath, but it’s not typically as severe as in an asthma attack. 

Also note that allergies can also trigger asthma symptoms in children who already have asthma, making it vital to manage both conditions simultaneously.

Understanding asthma

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that causes inflammation in the airways in the lungs. In children with asthma, the airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it harder for them to breathe. 

Common asthma symptoms include:

Your child’s asthma symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they often worsen during asthma attacks. An attack can be triggered by allergens, respiratory infections, exercise, or exposure to irritants like smoke or strong odors.

Making a distinction between allergies and asthma

While allergies and asthma can share similar symptoms, there are key differences that can help you distinguish between the two:


Specific allergens trigger allergies. Asthma symptoms may also occur in response to allergens, but also other factors, including infections, exercise, or stress.


Allergy symptoms often occur immediately after exposure to allergens, while asthma symptoms may develop gradually or suddenly and can vary in intensity. If your child has seasonal allergies, the symptoms occur during the time of year that the trigger, like mold or pollen, is in the environment.

Breathing patterns

In allergies, shortness of breath is usually associated with nasal congestion or sneezing, whereas in asthma, it is often accompanied by wheezing and chest tightness.

Diagnosing and treating your child’s respiratory condition

If you suspect that your child is experiencing allergies or asthma, make an appointment at our office. Dr. Lubega performs a thorough examination, reviews your child's medical history, and conducts tests to determine the underlying cause of their symptoms.

She offers a customized treatment plan. For allergies, treatment includes allergen avoidance, over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, nasal corticosteroid sprays, and allergy shots (immunotherapy).

Treatment for asthma may include an inhaled corticosteroid, quick-relief medications known as short-acting beta-agonists, lifestyle modifications, and an action plan for caregivers to monitor and manage symptoms. 

With proper diagnosis and management of your child’s shortness of breath, you can help them lead a healthy and active life. Whether it's allergies or asthma, early detection and appropriate treatment are the keys.

If you’re concerned about your child’s respiratory health, call First Pediatric Care Center today or use this website to schedule an appointment. We can help them breathe a little easier to make each and every day more enjoyable.

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