What is asthma?
Asthma is a lung disorder that causes the airways to become narrow, making it hard to breathe. Asthma often starts in childhood, especially before age 5.
Many common things can trigger asthma attacks, such as a cold, allergies, or breathing dust
During an asthma attack, your child may wheeze, cough, or feel short of breath
Doctors prescribe medicines for your child to take during an asthma attack, and sometimes medicines to help prevent attacks
Some children stop having asthma by the time they become adults
With an asthma attack, 2 things happen:
The muscles around the airways tighten up
The airways swell and fill with thick fluid (mucus)
Because of these things, your child's airways become narrow, making it hard to breathe.
What causes asthma in children?
Asthma usually runs in families. Your child’s asthma attacks may be triggered by:
A cold Common Cold The common cold is a viral infection. It's one of the most common illnesses people get. Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms Symptoms include... read more or bronchitis Acute Bronchitis Your bronchi are the tubes that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become swollen and irritated. Acute bronchitis starts suddenly, usually over a few days. Acute bronchitis... read more
Dust, mold, and animal dander
Being around cigarette smoke or perfume
Exercising, especially in cold or dry air
Feelings of fear, anger, or excitement
What are the symptoms of asthma in children?
Tight feeling in the chest
Cough, especially in cold air or during exercise
Shortness of breath
Sometimes, cough is the only symptom.
Go to a hospital emergency department right away or call for emergency medical help (911 in the United States) if your child has any of these warning signs:
Trouble breathing, which may include loud wheezing, fast breathing, or gasping
Skin that is sweaty and pale
Blue lips or fingers from low oxygen in the blood (cyanosis)
How can doctors tell if my child has asthma?
Doctors usually suspect asthma based on your child’s symptoms, especially if asthma or allergies run in your family. Sometimes doctors do tests:
Chest x-ray if doctors suspect a different breathing problem, such as pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more
Allergy testing to find possible triggers for your child’s asthma
Pulmonary function tests Pulmonary Function Testing (PFT) Pulmonary refers to your lungs. Pulmonary function tests check how well your lungs are working. During the test, you breathe in and out of a tube connected to the pulmonary function device The... read more can confirm asthma if your child is old enough to do the tests
How do doctors treat asthma in children?
To treat mild asthma attacks, doctors will have your child:
Use an inhaler to take a fast-acting (rescue) medicine to open the airways
The rescue medicine is a called a bronchodilator. Your child can use a bronchodilator inhaler 1 to 3 times, 20 minutes apart if needed.
To treat severe asthma attacks, go to a hospital emergency department right away or call for emergency medical help (911 in the United States). Doctors will:
Give a rescue medicine by inhaler or sometimes in a shot
Often give a corticosteroid drug to reduce swelling in your child’s airway
Give your child extra oxygen, if needed
Sometimes, admit your child to the hospital
Rarely, put a breathing tube in your child's windpipe
How can I help my child prevent asthma attacks?
Check your child’s airflow with a peak flow meter. A peak flow meter is a handheld device that measures how fast your child can blow air out. It'll help you know when your child needs medicine.
Some children need to take long-lasting (maintenance) medicines every day. There are many different maintenance medicines. Some are inhalers and some are pills. Your child may need more than one kind of medicine.
Help your child avoid things that trigger asthma attacks:
Keep cigarette smoke, strong smells, and fumes out of your house
Help your child avoid cold air
If needed, have your child use an inhaler before exercising
Have your child use a pillow made of man-made materials and a mattress cover to protect against dust mites
Wash sheets and blankets in hot water
Keep your house clean to avoid dust mites and cockroaches
Use a dehumidifier to dry out the air in any damp places like a basement
How does a child take asthma medicine?
Overusing asthma medicines is dangerous. Tell the doctor if your child has to use the medicine more often than prescribed.
A lot of asthma medicine is taken using an inhaler or a nebulizer.
Inhalers (also called metered-dose inhalers) are small, hand-held devices. They are the most common way to take asthma medicines. They turn medicine into a fine spray your child can breathe. An inhaler that has a spacer or holding chamber is easier to use.
Nebulizers are electric or battery-powered machines that turn liquid medicine into a fine spray your child can easily breathe in through a mask.