Childhood asthma, a serious, chronic respiratory disease, impacts millions of children and their families. 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, you can help your child take control of their health and avoid the triggers that can cause asthma attacks.
What happens during an asthma attack/episode?
During an asthma attack, 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 or throat
- Coughing and/or wheezing
What triggers asthma symptoms?
According to the AAAAI, asthma is often triggered by a respiratory infection or an allergic reaction to things in the environment, including:
- Pet dander—the dust in the fur of furry or feathered animals
- 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 or sinus infections
- Exercise or physical activity
- Stress and other strong feelings, such as anger, excitement and sadness
How is asthma diagnosed?
If you suspect your child has asthma symptoms, talk with your health care provider. They will ask about your child’s medical history, signs and symptoms, and do 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. This action plan may include a prescribed asthma medication. Make sure that you share the asthma action plan with your child’s daycare, school or other caretakers.
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.
How can I help my child cope?
- Talk to your child about asthma using these tips from the American Lung Association.
- Children easily pick up on the feelings and attitudes of their parents, so stay calm, positive and encouraging. Asthma symptoms can be frightening for kids, but understanding what is happening in their body can make the symptoms much less scary.
- Have your child play the Lungtropolis online game from the American Lung Association to teach them basics about asthma control.
- Help your child develop good health habits—getting enough sleep, eating right and getting exercise.
- Take your child for regular health care checkups.
- Use a peak flow meter to track changes in your child’s breathing. When the meter reading drops, your child may be experiencing asthma symptoms. If it’s in the red, call 911 or take them to the emergency room.
- Remove any known asthma triggers in 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. An asthma inhaler should be used with a spacer, which is a device that helps the medication reach the child's lungs.
- Some types of medicine can be inhaled (to reduce the inflammation at the start of an attack) or taken in pill form.
- Quick-relief medicines provide temporary relief of asthma symptoms. Most quick-relief medicines work within 15 minutes.
- Long-term control medicines are taken daily to control airway inflammation and treat frequent asthma symptoms.
- Let other adults in your child’s life know about the child’s asthma and give caregivers a copy of the child’s asthma action plan, so they know what to do in an asthma emergency.
- The American Lung Association provides more helpful tips on how to manage symptoms.
What should my child do when experiencing asthma symptoms?
- Tell an adult right away.
- Take quick-relief medicine.
- Sit down and rest. (Do NOT lie down, as this makes it harder for the medicine to go where it needs to.)
- Try a method for relaxing known as belly breathing.
- If your child is experiencing a breathing emergency, get your child to the emergency room immediately or call 911.