Risks to your child’s lungs

Early life risks to your children's lungs

This information describes some of the risks to children's lungs as they develop.


Your child’s genes

Studies have shown that certain genes can make children more vulnerable to lung conditions:

  • some conditions, like cystic fibrosis, are caused by a specific problem with your child’s genes.
  • others such as asthma, are caused by a combination of genes and triggers like air pollution and infection.

We don’t have all the answers yet but we’re doing research to help understand the role genes play in lung conditions.


Lungs that don’t grow properly in the womb

Some children’s lungs don’t grow properly in the womb.  This results in pulmonary hypoplasia and usually happens because:

  • their chest cavity or diaphragm hasn’t formed properly or
  • there is not enough amniotic fluid or
  • they don’t have the right amount of lung fluid or lung pressure or
  • the breathing movements they make in the womb are not normal

Sometimes a child may have no lung at all on one side.  This is called pulmonary agenesis.


Being premature

Babies born prematurely have a higher risk of developing lung problems. Their lungs haven’t finished growing and they are more likely to get an infection.

They may have problems breathing, sometimes called respiratory distress syndrome, and need a ventilator to help them breathe. This can lead to scarring of the lungs and problems with lung development. This is called bronchopulmonary dysplasia.

They may be more at risk of an infection called respiratory syncytial virus or RSV.

They may have a lower birth weight and this may have risks to developing lungs.


Having a low birth weight

Low birth weight means babies born weighing less than 2.5kg (5 lbs 8 ozs).

Children and adults who have a low birth weight seem to be at an increased risk of wheezing, asthma, respiratory infection and problems with the way their lungs work.

Air pollution, smoking and diet in pregnancy are linked to low birth weight in your baby.  If you’re pregnant, try to avoid air pollution as much as possible, eat well and don’t smoke.

Last medically reviewed: September 2016. Due for review: September 2019

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.