Symptoms of viral asthma may include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and wheezing. People may also have additional symptoms that are similar to those of the common cold.

Viral-induced asthma, or viral asthma, occurs when a virus triggers an asthma attack. The symptoms of viral asthma may be the same as typical asthma symptoms. They may also accompany symptoms of the common cold, such as a runny nose or sore throat.

While viral infections can exacerbate asthma, scientists are still debating whether they can cause it.

In this article, we will look at the symptoms of viral asthma, what causes it, and how doctors treat it.

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Viral asthma can occur in adults and children. Younger children may develop bronchiolitis, which is a viral infection that may lead to childhood asthma.

Bronchiolitis causes airway obstruction, breathing difficulties, and wheezing. Doctors may need to differentiate between bronchiolitis and asthma.

Asthma symptoms include:

When someone has viral-induced asthma, they may have other symptoms, such as those of the common cold. It is important to contact a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment, especially for infants and children.

A 2020 review indicates that rhinovirus (RV), the virus that causes the common cold, can create an inflammatory environment and affect specific risk genes in people predisposed to developing asthma.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of bronchiolitis, a viral lung infection common in young children and a major risk factor for developing childhood asthma. RV is a more common infection after the age of 1 year old.

The 2020 review adds that breathing difficulty induced by either of these viruses may have associations with the later development of asthma. Generally, RV is a risk factor for later atopic, or allergic, asthma. Experts more often associate RSV with later nonatopic asthma.

Learn more about RSV and asthma.

Evidence indicates that RV, the common cold virus, is the most common single trigger of viral exacerbations. It causes up to 76% of exacerbations of wheezing children and is a key risk factor for school-age asthma among young wheezing children. Additionally, RV is the cause of up to 83% of asthma in adults.

Other viruses may also cause bronchiolitis, wheezing, and asthma, including:

A 2022 study indicates that infants with breathing problems, eczema, and RV infection had a 2.5-fold increased risk of developing asthma compared with infants with a classic bronchiolitis profile.

Other risk factors for asthma include young age, parental smoking, and common asthma risk genes. In addition, race may be a risk factor for viral asthma, which can make a person more prone to exacerbation. Sinusitis and sensitivity to animal dander and dust mites are also risk factors for triggering viral asthma.

Evidence suggests that although scientists have made progress in understanding viral asthma, they need to understand it more to help prevent it. However, a study suggests that oral corticosteroids can decrease wheezing in the 12 months after viral infection and decrease the incidence of asthma by 30% in a 4–7-year follow-up.

A 2016 review notes that doctors may prescribe short-acting beta2-adrenergic receptor agonists inhalers and corticosteroids to help manage viral asthma. However, the authors warn that scientists have linked long-term use of corticosteroids from childhood to adverse effects such as reduced bone density, increased risk of infection, and weight gain.

Scientists are currently trying to develop new therapies and treatments for viral asthma.

In some cases, viral asthma may also require emergency treatment or hospitalization.

The virus for the common cold can be a primary trigger for viral asthma. Because of this, it may make sense to utilize strategies to help prevent the common cold in people prone to asthma. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advise that people can reduce their risk of getting a cold by:

  • washing their hands often
  • avoiding touching the eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • staying away from people who are unwell, where possible

Learn about how to manage an asthma attack.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology advises that any asthma symptom can become serious and even life threatening if a person does not treat it. If adults or children have asthma symptoms, they should consider contacting a doctor or attending the emergency room if symptoms are severe.

Symptoms of viral asthma may be the same as any type of asthma. For instance, chest tightness, trouble breathing, and wheezing are common symptoms of viral-induced asthma. Additionally, someone may have symptoms relating to the virus that lead to asthma exacerbation.

Wheezing in infants may be a sign of bronchiolitis, and a doctor may need to differentiate this from asthma. However, infants who develop bronchiolitis may be more at risk of developing childhood asthma. Other asthma triggers in adults and children may include cigarette smoke, pet hair, or dust mites.