Childhood asthma is a complex condition with a number of causes. It affects about one in 11 children in the United States, and common factors are hard to find. There is believed to be an allergic component, with allergens such as pollen, dust mites, and pollutants serving as triggers. Children with autoimmune conditions often have asthma as well. There has been observed to be a link between asthma and obesity, but it isn’t clear whether obesity can be a contributing factor for childhood asthma, as it is in adults, or if asthmatic children are more prone to obesity, for instance because they are less able to exercise.
One factor that is known to contribute is stress—in particular, the mother’s stress during pregnancy. Prenatal maternal stress has been found to have a number of possible effects on the future child, such as premature birth, and resent research adds asthma to that list. Stress hormones are heightened in pregnant women as a matter of course, and experiencing stress raise the levels of these hormones further. These elevated hormones can affect the fetus. Stress hormones temporarily lessen the immune response, and so fetuses are more prone to react to allergens and other asthma triggers. One such trigger is secondhand smoke. Most mothers-to-be know not to smoke during pregnancy, but there’s also evidence that when the father smoked—even before conception—the child is more likely to develop asthma.
In recent years, researchers have begun to look at the psychology of asthma. The symptoms of asthma can often be intractable, and respiratory medicine is not always the whole story. That is why doctors are increasingly turning to the insights of psychology to try to determine what will make people with asthma feel better as a separate question from what it means for the condition itself. Asthmatic people are prone to psychological problems stemming from the limitations it imposes, and addressing that is important.
Managing the physical symptoms is also important. One interesting finding is that infants who sleep on animal fur are less prone to developing asthma. If that isn’t enough, experts recommend keeping the environment as dust-free as possible, but using air conditioning, filters, and dehumidifiers to keep the air dry, cleaning damp areas to keep mold at bay, and vacuuming and dusting regularly, especially if there are pets in the home.