Allergy & Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics (AANMA)

1. Does asthma tend to run in families? Is asthma a genetic disease?

There is evidence that the tendency to develop asthma symptoms runs in families. But finding the gene or genes remains challenging. And once found, what type or types of therapies would be developed? If you could alter your genetic stripes, so to speak, to cure asthma, would you? These are interesting questions and the subjects of many scientific discussions, but back to basics: Having asthma in your family tree is not a sure sign that you or your children or grandchildren will develop the condition.

Born to one parent with asthma, a child has a 25 percent chance of developing the condition. If both parents have asthma, the child’s chances increase to 50 percent. But asthma symptoms can be caused by excessive exposure to airborne allergens and irritants or can follow an episode of bronchitis or pneumonia in people with no family history of the condition.

2. At what age do asthma symptoms first begin?

Asthma symptoms commonly begin in childhood, but can begin at any age from infants to seniors.

3. How old does my child need to be before a diagnosis of asthma can be made?

The diagnosis of asthma can be made at any age.

4. What is the difference among asthma, reactive airway disease, asthmatic bronchitis and bronchial asthma?

Asthma is a term that represents a set of recurring symptoms caused by airway inflammation, swelling, congestion and muscle spasms. The reasons for those symptoms vary from one person to the next even in the same family.

Reactive airway disease, asthmatic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, seasonal asthma, intrinsic or extrinsic asthma, wheezy bronchitis – these are just some of the names people may hear, but they all point back to the same symptoms and treatments as asthma, with the exception that bronchitis is usually associated with a type of infection requiring use of antibiotics.

Getting a correct diagnosis is important. Asthma symptoms are serious and should be treated strategically, according to a plan developed just for you.

5. What is cystic fibrosis and why was my son tested for this disease?

Cystic fibrosis is a disease that affects the airways, lungs, stomach, pancreas, intestines, colon and other organs. A defective gene changes the chemical properties of mucus, making it thicker than normal and leading to frequent respiratory infections.

Cystic fibrosis and asthma are very different diseases; however, coughing, wheezing and respiratory infections are common to both. For more information about cystic fibrosis contact the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at

6. My daughter was hospitalized with Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) when she was two years old. She is now seven years old and having trouble with her breathing, especially when she has a cold. There is talk of her having asthma. I am wondering if RSV automatically caused her to have asthma.

RSV is a virus that commonly causes a respiratory infection in infants and young children. There is evidence suggesting RSV may be linked to the development of asthma in children. Children over the age of one who develop severe cases of RSV are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma later on. However, it is not clear whether the children develop asthma because of RSV, or whether their genetic predisposition to asthma made them more susceptible to RSV.

7. I have had asthma for years and but was just diagnosed with COPD. I don’t understand. Did I have COPD all along but it wasn’t diagnosed?

Both asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis – cause symptoms of shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing but are very different diseases. Asthma symptoms are reversible, meaning they improve or go away on their own or after being treated with medication, whereas COPD symptoms do not.

Asthma symptoms usually begin during childhood or the young adult years, whereas COPD is most often diagnosed in adults over 40 with a history of smoking. But not all people with COPD are smokers or former smokers.

A lifetime of poorly controlled asthma symptoms can leave the airways scarred and less flexible. While asthma tends to happen in the airways, COPD includes diseases that affect the air sacs – the part of the lungs that deliver fresh air (oxygen) to and remove used air (carbon dioxide) from the blood.


Many of the same medications used to treat asthma are also used by people diagnosed with COPD.