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Diseases & Conditions

Asthma&Your Child

What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease of the bronchial tubes (branches of the windpipe). When an asthma attack occurs, muscles around the airway tighten and mucus builds up in the lining of the airway. The airway then becomes irritated and swollen, allowing less air into the breathing passages. Asthma is not contagious but tends to run in families.

How can I tell if my child has asthma?

Your child's doctor should evaluate any illness that complicates your child's breathing. Your child may have asthma if he or she is experiencing:

  • Frequent coughing, especially at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness, pain, or pressure
  • Loss of breath
  • Tightened neck and chest muscles
  • Scratchy throat
  • Restlessness or nervousness
  • Feelings of weakness or fatigue
What causes an asthma attack?

Variables that can set off asthma attacks are called triggers. It is not know why triggers cause attacks. Some common triggers are:

  • Infections (colds, viruses, flu, sinus infections);
  • Exercise;
  • Weather (cold air, changes in temperature, humidity);
  • Tobacco smoke and air pollution;
  • Allergens, which are substances that cause an allergic reaction in the lungs; examples of allergens include dust mites, pollens, pets, mold spores, foods, etc.;
  • Strong odors from chemical products;
  • Strong emotions such as crying or laughing hard; and
  • certain medications including ibuprofen.
Can asthma be cured?

There is no cure for asthma, but some children may outgrow the illness. Your child can control symptoms by following the instructions of his or her doctor.

How is asthma treated?

Treatments depend on the severity of the asthma and may include:

  • Breathing treatments (aerosols, inhalers)
  • Medications, called bronchodilators, given by mouth or intravenously (IV) that relax muscles around the airways
  • Anti-inflammatories to reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways
  • Oxygen
  • Decreased activity or rest
How can an asthma attack be prevented?

Be sure to give your child medications as instructed by the doctor. This may mean making arrangements with a school nurse or childcare provider. Try to keep your child away from asthma triggers (things that make it difficult to breathe). Make sure your child knows to tell an adult when he or she has difficulty breathing.

Be sure to give your child medications as instructed by the doctor. This may mean making arrangements with a school nurse or childcare provider. Try to keep your child away from asthma triggers (things that make it difficult to breathe). Make sure your child knows to tell an adult when he or she has difficulty breathing.

Questions to ask your child's doctor
  • For how long and at what times of the day should I give my child any necessary medication?
  • How should I store the medication? Should medications be refrigerated?
  • When will my child start to feel better?
  • Will I need to bring my child back for a follow-up visit?
  • Should I keep my child home from school or day care?
  • What activities should my child do in moderation or stop doing?
  • Are certain foods or liquids recommended?
  • Which over-the-counter pain relievers do you recommend?
  • Which over-the-counter medications/preparations are NOT recommended?
  • Which symptoms would require a call to the doctor?