The Link Between Premature Birth and Childhood Asthma

Asthma in childhood is higher in premature babies than those born full term. Asthma, a chronic lung problem that causes the airways in the lungs to become inflamed, makes it hard to breathe and can be fatal if left unchecked. Asthma can be mild to severe and can have allergic or non-allergic causes.

Baby with asthma using an inhaler.
Science Photo Library / Ruth Jenkins / Getty Images

Healthcare providers have long known that babies born before 33 weeks gestation are more likely to have asthma than babies born at term. Recent studies show that late preterm (34 to 36 weeks) and early term babies (37 to 38 weeks) are also more likely to have asthma than babies born after 38 weeks.

Asthma Symptoms to Look for in Your Child

Asthma is a tricky diagnosis, especially in very young children. There are many different problems that can cause the symptoms of asthma, and it can be hard to measure lung function in babies and toddlers. However, if you witness the following symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about the possibility of asthma:

  • Wheezing, which is generally heard as a high-pitched whistling sound associated with labored breathing.
  • A dry or hacking cough, which is more of a broken cough with a rough and loud sound.
  • Tightness or pulling in the chest, which is marked by the skin around your baby's ribs being pulled abnormally tight while breathing.
  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath, which can be marked by rapid breathing and your child's inability to control or slow down and take deep breaths.

Keeping Track of Symptoms

When evaluating whether or not your child has asthma, your pediatrician will ask about what makes your child's symptoms better or worse. So, keep track of when symptoms occur, or certain triggers, such as allergens, smoke, or cold air, that are likely to make the symptoms worse. Take note of when and where your child seems to have flare-ups in asthma symptoms. These notes will help your healthcare provider diagnose and treat your child.

Other Risk Factors

There are other risk factors that are associated with asthma. Be extra vigilant about keeping track of symptoms of asthma in your preemie, especially if these other risk factors are present:

  • Maternal smoking: Smoking during pregnancy and having a mother who smokes both increases a child's chance of having asthma.
  • Family history of asthma: Children with one or more asthmatic parents are more likely to have asthma.
  • Eczema: Eczema is an allergic skin disorder. Children who have eczema as babies are more likely to be diagnosed with asthma later on.
  • Allergies: Children with allergies that cause sneezing or stuffy or a runny nose are more likely to have asthma than children without nasal allergies.
  • Bronchiolitis: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the common cold can easily cause bronchiolitis in premature babies. New research shows that viral bronchiolitis in infancy may be linked to childhood asthma.

Will Your Child Outgrow Asthma?

Although preemies are more likely to have asthma in childhood, many outgrow their symptoms before they reach adulthood. Almost a quarter of preemies with childhood asthma are in complete remission by the time they turn 19. Take heart, It can be touch and go if your child is diagnosed with asthma, but with your keen eye on your child, he or she can lead a healthy life as they grow.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Goyal NK, Fiks AG, Lorch SA. Association of late-preterm birth with asthma in young children: practice-based studyPediatrics. 2011;128(4):e830–e838. doi:10.1542/peds.2011-0809

  2. Zhang J, Ma C, Yang A, Zhang R, Gong J, Mo F. Is preterm birth associated with asthma among children from birth to 17 years old? -A study based on 2011-2012 US National Survey of Children's HealthItal J Pediatr. 2018;44(1):151. doi:10.1186/s13052-018-0583-9

  3. Brewczyński PZ, Brodziak A. Have recent investigations into remission from childhood asthma helped in understanding the pathogenesis of this disease?Med Sci Monit. 2015;21:570–575. doi:10.12659/MSM.893575

Additional Reading
  • American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. " Can infant bronchiolitis during respiratory syncytial virus season cause asthma?"

  • Andersson, M., et al. " Remission and Persistence of Asthma Followed From 7 to 19 Years of Age." Pediatrics. 2013;132:2, e435-e442.

  • Huan He, Arlene Butz, Corinne A. Keet, Cynthia S. Minkovitz, Xiumei Hong, Deanna M. Caruso, Colleen Pearson, Robyn T. Cohen, Marsha Wills-Karp, Barry S. Zuckerman, Mary E. Hughes, and Xiaobin Wang " Preterm Birth with Childhood Asthma: The Role of Degree of Prematurity and Asthma Definitions ", American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. 2015;192(4):520-523.

  • Jaakkola, J., et al. "Preterm Delivery and Asthma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis."Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2006;118:4, 823-830.

  • The Asthma Center. "Asthma - Children."