A healthy start starts here.

How to Help Your Child Cope With Asthma

About one in 10 school-age children has asthma—a serious, chronic respiratory disease that affects millions of children and their families. Asthma is one of the main illness-related reasons students miss school, accounting for more than 10 million lost school days every year.

The majority of children who develop asthma do so before the age of 5, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). By properly diagnosing and managing asthma symptoms at a young age, however, you can help your child take control of their health and avoid the triggers that can cause asthma attacks (also known as episodes).

What Happens During an Asthma Attack/Episode?

During an episode, which can be caused by allergens or other factors, the airways in the lungs become inflamed and swollen. Muscles around the airways can also tighten, and as less air passes through, breathing gets harder.

What Are Some Common Asthma Symptoms?

  • Shortness of breath
  • Tight or painful feeling in the chest
  • Wheezing, or noisy breathing
  • Coughing, often at night or during exercise

What Triggers Asthma Symptoms?

According to the AAAAI, asthma is often triggered by allergies or exposure to allergens in the environment. Overall, allergies trigger asthma in about 70 percent of children who have the condition. Here are some common triggers:

  • Pet dander
  • Mold or pollen
  • Smoke from tobacco or campfires
  • Dust mites in house dust, bedding, stuffed animals, carpeting or upholstered furniture
  • Strong odors or fumes from paint or cleaning products, perfumes, air fresheners or candles
  • Exposure to extreme cold, dry air or weather changes
  • Viral respiratory tract infections or sinus infections
  • Exercise or physical activity
  • Stress and other strong feelings, such as anger, excitement and sadness

How Parents Can Help Their Child

  • If you suspect your child has asthma symptoms, talk with your health care provider. They may ask about your child’s medical history, signs and symptoms, and perform a lung function test and a physical exam.
  • If your child is diagnosed with asthma, your health care provider can help you and your child develop an asthma action plan to reduce exposure to asthma triggers and understand the steps of how to handle an asthma attack/episode.
  • Your primary care provider may refer you to a pulmonologist (lung doctor) or allergist. You can also find an allergist through the AAAAI’s website.

Other Things You Can Do

  • Try to remove any known asthma triggers from your environment.
  • Teach your child how to avoid the triggers that can cause an asthma attack or episode.
  • Teach your child how to properly take their prescribed asthma medications.
  • Let other adults in your child’s life know about the child’s condition and give caregivers a copy of the child’s asthma action plan, so they know what to do in an asthma emergency.

It’s Quittin’ Time in Tennessee

One of the most common triggers for asthma attacks is tobacco smoke. Children with asthma who are exposed to secondhand smoke have a higher risk for asthma attacks because their airways are overly sensitive. Parents can help their children—and improve their own health—by kicking the tobacco habit.

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21.9 percent of Tennesseans smoke (2015), and at least 30 Tennesseans die each day from tobacco use. Unless smoking rates decline, about 125,000 Tennesseans currently under the age of 18 will ultimately die from smoking.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Health joined the Statewide Tobacco-Free Coalition in celebrating Tennessee Quit Week. The theme for the campaign was “It’s Quittin’ Time in Tennessee” to celebrate Tennesseans who have quit using tobacco products and inspire more people to join them.

The Tennessee Tobacco QuitLine is a toll-free telephone service that provides personalized support for Tennesseans who want to quit smoking or chewing tobacco. Call the QuitLine—800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669)—or visit tnquitline.org and make a quit plan.

Additional Resources

The American Lung Association provides tips on how to identify and manage asthma symptoms.

The lung association also has suggestions for parents in encouraging an asthma-friendly environment in your child’s school.

Check out a strategy to quit smoking under “Breathe Easier” in the Small Starts for Families from Healthier Tennessee.