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Does Childhood Asthma Go Away?

Medically reviewed by Meredith Plant, M.D.
Written by Joan Grossman
Posted on January 2, 2024

  • There’s no cure for asthma, although many people diagnosed as children no longer have symptoms as adults.
  • Several risk factors may make it more likely to experience asthma symptoms in adulthood.
  • Even if a child appears to have outgrown the condition, some triggers may still cause asthma symptoms such as chest tightness.

For many children with asthma, symptoms may lessen or even go away as time goes on. But research indicates that even if symptoms seem to disappear later in life, people who had childhood asthma are likely to still have airway inflammation in their lungs that may flare, depending on their triggers.

“I had three children, and both my oldest daughter and my son were diagnosed with asthma,” a MyAsthmaTeam member shared. “My son is 52 years old. He doesn’t have any symptoms of asthma anymore, but when he gets around cats or goes somewhere where there’s perfume or something like that, you can see he’s struggling.”

A Lifelong Diagnosis

Asthma is considered a chronic (ongoing) condition that has no cure, although with good management, symptoms can be minimal to nonexistent. Researchers believe that asthma is partly caused by dysfunction in the immune system, which causes inflammation in the lungs. Most people with asthma lead normal, active lives, but it isn’t possible to outgrow the diagnosis, even if you outgrow the symptoms.

Asthma is one of the most common chronic conditions among children and affects approximately 7.5 million kids in the United States. About 50 percent of people who have asthma as children are likely to have symptoms again in adulthood, particularly in their 30s and 40s.

“I had childhood asthma, but I outgrew it, or so I thought! Unfortunately, the asthma came back, and now I have to do my best to control it,” a MyAsthmaTeam member said.

If symptoms improve considerably or even resolve in chronic lifelong diseases such as asthma, so that there’s no need for medication, the condition is considered inactive. Health care professionals and medical researchers will refer to inactive disease as being in remission.

It’s important to note that medical researchers haven’t yet come up with a firm definition of remission in childhood or pediatric asthma. For instance, cancer has various degrees of remission, from partial to complete, depending on which symptoms have gone away and for how long. Remission in asthma has sometimes been defined as living without symptoms, flare-ups, or asthma medicines such as inhalers. Strict or complete remission is often defined as airways that show normal lung function. However, lung function can change, depending on exposure to triggers that could still cause symptoms.

The Natural Course of Childhood Asthma

Researchers have studied the natural course of asthma — how it typically starts and progresses over time. This is also known as the natural history of a disease.

One 2022 systematic review of scientific studies showed that approximately 80 percent of people with asthma experienced wheezing — breathing with a whistling sound due to constricted (narrowed) airways, particularly when exhaling — before age 6. The review also indicated that 67 percent to 75 percent of young children who have asthma by the time they’re 7 years old will be in remission as adults.

The review showed that 25 percent to 40 percent of all children experience wheezing at a young age, although sometimes the wheezing or shortness of breath may not be caused by asthma. Just 27 percent of preschoolers who wheezed were diagnosed with asthma as older children or adolescents (roughly age 13 to 18), with only 3 percent to 5 percent still symptomatic as adults.

Risk Factors That Affect Asthma Remission

Some medical researchers have begun to look at asthma as a syndrome with numerous subtypes, rather than a single disease. Various subtypes of childhood asthma may have different characteristics that affect the likelihood of remission. Researchers are still trying to better understand the different causes of asthma subtypes and how they progress, but they’ve established that childhood asthma with poor lung function is more likely to persist into adulthood.

Remitting, Periodic, and Persistent Childhood Asthma

A child’s asthma is often categorized according to how often they have symptoms. Remitting asthma has been defined as asthma that hasn’t been active for a year. Persistent asthma includes asthma attacks or flares at least every three months (or quarter). Periodic asthma isn’t persistent or remitting but occurs occasionally.

In one 2019 study of people with persistent childhood asthma, rates of remission in adulthood were lower than average (as indicated in the systematic review). In this study, 26 percent of the 879 participants were in clinical remission as adults without symptoms or asthma medication, while 15 percent achieved strict remission with normal lung function based on bronchoprovocation testing (an evaluation of how reactive lungs are). Almost 60 percent of the participants didn’t achieve remission in adulthood.

Coinciding Allergic Diseases

Children with a family history of asthma who develop allergic rhinitis (hay fever), atopic dermatitis (the most common type of eczema), and asthma — also known as allergic asthma — have been shown to have lower rates of asthma remission in adulthood. Allergens such as dust mites, animal or pet dander, feathers, grass pollens, and mold can be asthma triggers and have been linked to more severe and persistent asthma.

One study of 119 participants with childhood allergic asthma showed that 22 percent reached complete remission in adulthood, and another 30 percent achieved clinical remission as adults. However, 57 percent of those in clinical remission had low lung function or bronchial hyperresponsiveness. These findings indicated active disease and airway inflammation, despite a lack of asthma symptoms and asthma treatment.

Risks of Severe Asthma in Children

According to one small study, children with severe asthma — their condition isn’t adequately controlled by treatment — have a 41 percent risk of asthma persisting through adolescence. Low socioeconomic status was found to be a significant risk factor in childhood asthma that persists into adulthood.

Other risk factors included:

  • More than two hospitalizations with childhood asthma
  • Some food allergies
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in early adulthood

Work Closely With Your Child’s Health Care Providers

If your child has asthma, it’s essential to maintain their recommended treatment plan, even if asthma symptoms aren’t apparent. Avoid changing dosage or stopping treatment without medical advice. A sudden change in medication may cause worsening symptoms or withdrawal symptoms. Asthma that’s well controlled can help your child engage in normal physical activity and enjoy a good quality of life.

You can work with your medical team to determine if it’s appropriate for your child to reduce their mediation. If so, your team will provide a plan for safely changing your child’s treatment.

Even if a child appears to have outgrown asthma, it’s important to know that some triggers may still cause asthma symptoms, such as chest tightness or shortness of breath that may need treatment or even emergency care. Possible triggers include:

  • Cold air
  • Allergens
  • Chemicals
  • Air pollution or other irritants such as tobacco smoke
  • Exercise
  • Viral infections or respiratory infections

People who have a history of childhood asthma may sometimes need quick-relief medicine. Be sure to work with your child’s pediatrician or allergist to make an asthma action plan in case of an unexpected severe asthma attack.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyAsthmaTeam is the social network for people with asthma and their loved ones. On MyAsthmaTeam, more than 11,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share stories with others who understand life with asthma.

Has your child’s asthma gone into remission? Have any asthma triggers affected your child despite being in remission? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

Posted on January 2, 2024
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Meredith Plant, M.D. specializes in mental health, including prevention measures and treatment of ADHD, depression, and anxiety. Learn more about her here.
Joan Grossman is a freelance writer, filmmaker, and consultant based in Brooklyn, NY. Learn more about her here.

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