Asthma & Children Fact Sheet

September 2014

Asthma is a reversible obstructive lung disease, caused by increased reaction of the airways to various stimuli. It is a chronic inflammatory condition with acute exacerbations. Asthma can be a life-threatening disease if not properly managed.

  • Asthma is one of the most common chronic disorders in childhood, currently affecting an estimated 7.1 million children under 18 years; of which 4.1 million suffered from an asthma attack or episode in 2011.1

  • An asthma episode is a series of events that results in narrowed airways. These include: swelling of the lining, tightening of the muscle, and increased secretion of mucus in the airway. The narrowed airway is responsible for the difficulty in breathing with the familiar “wheeze”.

  • Asthma is characterized by excessive sensitivity of the lungs to various stimuli. Triggers range from viral infections to allergies, to irritating gases and particles in the air. Each child reacts differently to the factors that may trigger asthma, including:
      • respiratory infections and colds
      • cigarette smoke
      • allergic reactions to such allergens as pollen, mold, animal dander, feather, dust, food, and cockroaches
      • indoor and outdoor air pollutants, including ozone and particle pollution
      • exposure to cold air or sudden temperature change
      • excitement/stress
      • exercise
  • Secondhand smoke can cause serious harm to children. An estimated 400,000 to one million children with asthma have their condition worsened by exposure to secondhand smoke.2

  • Asthma can be a life-threatening disease if not properly managed. In 2011, 3,345 deaths were attributed to asthma. However, deaths due to asthma are rare among children. The number of deaths increases with age. In 2011, 169 children under 15 died from asthma compared to 633 adults over 85.3

  • Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15. Approximately 29 percent of all asthma hospital discharges in 2010 were in those under 15, however only 20% of the U.S. population was less than 15 years old.4

  • In 2010, there were approximately 640,000 emergency room visits were due to asthma in those under 15.5

  • Current asthma prevalence in children under 18 ranges from 6.4% in Nevada to 13.9% in the District of Columbia.6

  • The annual direct health care cost of asthma is approximately $50.1 billion; indirect costs (e.g. lost productivity) add another $5.9 billion, for a total of $56.0 billion dollars.7

  • Asthma is one of the leading causes of school absenteeism;8 in 2008, asthma accounted for an estimated 14.4 million lost school days in children with an asthma attack in the previous year.9

For more information on asthma, please review the Asthma Morbidity and Mortality Trend Report in the Data and Statistics section of our website at www.lung.org or call the American Lung Association at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).

Related links on the Web

These sites are not part of The American Lung Association web site, and we have no control over their content or availability.

 

SOURCES

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey Raw Data, 2011. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Health Education Division using SPSS and SUDAAN software.
  2. California Environmental Protection Agency: Respiratory Health Effect of Passive Smoking, June 2005.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. CDC Wonder On-line Database, compiled from Compressed Mortality File 1999-2011 Series 20 No. 2Q, 2014.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics, National Hospital Discharge Survey, 1995-2010. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Health Education Division using SPSS software.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics, National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2010. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Health Education Division using SPSS software.
  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, 2012. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Health Education Division using SPSS and SUDAAN software.
  7. Barnett SB, Nurmagambetov TA. Costs of Asthma in the Unites States: 2002-2007. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2011; 127:145-52.
  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Healthy Youth! Health Topics: Asthma. August 14, 2009. Accessed on February 9, 2010.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: National Center for Health Statistics, National Health Interview Survey Raw Data, 2008. Analysis by the American Lung Association Research and Health Education Division using SPSS and SUDAAN software.