Asthma Basics

If your child gets an infection, he’ll generally get better with medicine. But asthma is a chronic disease—the most common chronic illness among children. It does not go away, even when your child is feeling fine.

What happens during an asthma attack?

During an asthma attack, or “episode,” the airways in your child’s lungs get swollen and narrowed and produce more mucus. An asthma episode usually starts when your child’s airways over-react to an asthma “trigger,” something that makes your child’s symptoms worse. This makes it more difficult for her to breathe. Your child’s health care provider will help you and your child figure out what triggers are most bothersome for her. Your provider may also give your child medicine to treat asthma episodes and to prevent symptoms.

Your child can stay active.

Your child has to live with asthma, but asthma should not stop him from living an active, healthy life. He can swim in a pool, shoot hoops, or run around a soccer field as long as his lungs are kept healthy and strong. Your child’s health care provider will work with you to make sure his asthma is kept in good control.

What to expect at your child’s asthma visit

  • A review symptoms, triggers, and medications
  • A review of your child’s asthma action plan
  • Any necessary changes will be made
  • Allergy testing and spirometry will be administered as needed


Before you bring your child to his/her asthma appointment, visit our CHADIS page and read its information. The questionnaires available through help us to understand your child’s specific medical needs and help us to provide better medical care to your child.

Identifying Triggers

Does your child start to wheeze whenever he pets a dog? If this occurs, then pet dander, the dust from furry animals, is one of his asthma triggers. A trigger is anything that bothers your child’s lungs and makes his asthma symptoms worse.

Triggers come in many forms.

An asthma trigger can be a substance, like perfume. It can be an allergy, such as hay fever. It can be a situation, such as something that causes your child to feel stressed or angry. It varies from person to person, but everyone with asthma has at least one trigger. They can bring on an asthma episode, or attack, and that can be life-threatening. It’s important to keep your child away from asthma triggers as much as possible.

Triggers vary, but there are some common ones.

Some triggers that frequently induce asthma symptoms are:

  • Being sick with a cold or flu
  • Smoke from cigarettes, pipes, wood burning stoves, or campfires
  • Dust mites in house dust, bedding, stuffed animals, carpeting, or upholstered furniture
  • Pet dander—the dust in the fur of furry or feathered animals
  • Pollen in trees, grass, weeds, or flowers
  • Outdoor and indoor air pollution
  • Strong odors from paint or cleaning products, perfumes, air fresheners, or candles
  • Mold
  • Changes in the weather, especially extreme heat or cold
  • Stress and other strong feelings, such as anger, excitement, and sadness
  • Exercise or physical activity
  • Some foods

Triggers can be avoided.

You want your child to be happy and healthy, and that means keeping her away from asthma triggers! First, you need to know what your child’s triggers are and—more than that—what you can do to help her stay away from them. There are often some low-cost or no-cost solutions. Let’s say your child is sensitive to dust mites, for example. You might take some ordinary prevention measures like washing her bedding every week in hot water to reduce her exposure to dust mite allergens. If smoke is a trigger—and you smoke—you should make a plan to quit or at least make sure you don’t smoke around your child. Also, you should ask adults not to smoke around your child.

If you don’t know what your child’s triggers are, talk with your child’s health care provider. She can help you figure out what makes your child’s asthma worse. Together you can make a plan to help your child avoid or limit her exposure to asthma triggers.

Here are some tips for reducing asthma triggers.

Asthma Action Plan

Your child’s plan will include:

  • The name, dosage, and timing of your child’s medicines
  • Your child’s triggers
  • Emergency contact information, such as your doctor’s phone number and your phone number
  • What to do when your child’s asthma symptoms first appear
  • What to do in a breathing emergency

When to See Your Provider

Your health care provider is part of your child’s asthma action team. So are you and your child. The team works together to keep your child’s asthma in good control so that he can be as healthy and active as possible.

Schedule regular asthma checkups.

You do everything you can to keep your child healthy. Part of that is maintaining regular asthma checkups. These visits are the time to talk about your child’s current symptoms and about the amount of medicine she is taking. Asthma checkups are an important way to learn about any new ways to manage your child’s asthma, whether it’s different medicines or different ways to deal with your child’s triggers.

Don’t hesitate to get emergency care.

Even with good asthma management, there can be times when your child’s asthma gets out of control, and he has a breathing emergency. When this happens, get medical care immediately.

Call a health care provider right away if your child:

  • Feels faint, dizzy, or weak.
  • Has trouble doing a routine activity, such as a household chore or walking to school.
  • Has wheezing when he breathes in or out, especially if this is different from usual breathing patterns.

Call 911 or go to the emergency room without delay when:

  • Your child’s wheezing gets worse even after you have given her medicine time to start working. (Most quick-relief medicines work within 15 minutes.)
  • Your child’s lips or fingernail beds are turning blue.
  • Nostrils are flaring each time your child breathes in.
  • The skin between the ribs or base of your child’s throat looks like it stretches every time she breathes in.
  • Talking or walking at a normal pace is difficult.
  • Peak flow meter reading is in the red zone.

Resources and Links

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