Asthma: More Common in Boys Than in Girls Before Puberty

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition that affects more people worldwide than there are people in the United States. In the United States alone there are over 30 million people suffering from asthma, 6.8 million of which are children. While asthma can be debilitating to any of its sufferers, it is often children who suffer most from its effects during their journey of social, mental, and physical development.

Asthma at a Glance

Asthma is essentially an unnecessary immune response, involving the excessive inflammation and constriction of respiratory passages, as well as over-production of mucus in airways. Its symptoms arent constantly experienced, but rather are triggered by specific irritants and result in sudden and acute episodes known as asthma attacks.

What Happens During An Asthma Attack?

An asthma attack is essentially a kind of allergic reaction. When an irritant is inhaled, the immune system identifies it as harmful and mounts a reaction to rid it from the body. Fluid rushes to the airways, causing them to swell. The cells that make up the airway produce more mucus in an attempt to trap the foreign substances. Also, muscles surrounding the airways contract in an effort to limit inhalation of the harmful substance (and air as well, unfortunately).

How Does An Asthma Attack Feel?

During an asthma attack, the chest tightens and breathing becomes very difficult due to narrowed airways and accumulated mucus. Patients often wheeze - a raspy sound made when air is forced through mucus-clogged respiratory passages. It can be difficult to finish a sentence or walk a short distance due to shortness of breath.

Asthma Attack Triggers

While the underlying cause of asthma has yet to be discovered, a great variety of triggers have been identified. Things like pollen, mold, dust mites, viral infections, smoke, exercise, cold air, chemical fumes, and intense emotions can all bring on an asthma attack. Often times, preventing an asthma attack can be achieved simply by avoiding those things which bring on asthma symptoms.

Asthma in Children

  • In the United States, nearly 1 in 13 children suffer from asthma, with preschoolers making up the greatest proportion.
  • In 2000, asthma accounted for more 14 million school absences.
  • Roughly 4.2 million children experienced an asthma attack in the last year.
  • More than 200,000 hospitalizations each year are the result of childhood asthma.
  • Prepubescent boys have a high incidence of asthma and asthma attacks than girls.

This last point is particularly interesting. Other than the obvious anatomical differences, boys and girls arent all that physically different prior to puberty. What, then, could account for the differences in asthma incidence? Perhaps boys are less likely to seek attention when ill. It may be that boys are more often exposed to irritants when playing outside. Or it could be a genetic factor, since boys have one less X chromosome than girls. Keep in mind that these are all just theories and that without knowing the underlying cause of asthma it will be difficult to explain the disparity.


Photo Credit: jek in the box

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