Asthma is a condition that causes breathing problems. Kids may cough, wheeze, or be short of breath. This happens because airways in the lungs get swollen, smaller, and filled with mucus.
Asthma is common in kids and teens and tends to run in families. It can be mild or so severe that it gets in the way of daily activities.
With medicine and the right care plan, asthma symptoms can be managed so that kids and teens can do just about anything they want to do.
No one knows exactly why some people develop asthma. Experts think it might be a combination of environmental factors and genes.
People with asthma may have a parent or other close relative with asthma. Those who are overweight may be more likely to have it.
In asthma, air doesn’t move through the lungs the way it should.
Normally, when someone breathes in, air goes in through the nose or mouth, down the windpipe (trachea), and into the airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. When people breathe out, air exits the body in the opposite direction.
With asthma, the air has a harder time passing through. Airways swell and fill with mucus. The muscles around the airways tighten, making airways narrower. Things that can irritate the airways are called “triggers.” Common triggers include cigarette smoke, allergies, and exercise.
Triggers can lead to asthma flare-ups or “attacks.”
Flare-ups are when asthma symptoms get worse. They happen when airways get more irritated and inflamed (swollen) than usual.
During a flare-up, kids might have:
Some flare-ups are serious, but others are mild. Flare-ups can happen suddenly or build up over time, especially if kids don’t take their asthma medicines as directed.
Things that bring on a flare-up are called triggers. Triggers vary from person to person, but common ones include:
An important part of managing asthma is avoiding triggers. Your child’s doctor will work with you to create a care plan that helps prevent flare-ups as much as possible.
To diagnose asthma, doctors will ask questions about a child’s health, problems with breathing, and family medical history. They’ll also ask about any allergies, illnesses, and exposure to things that may make breathing worse.
Kids will have a physical exam and those above 5 years may have a lung function test. This usually involves testing breathing with a spirometer, a machine that analyzes airflow through the airways.
There’s no cure for asthma, but it can be managed to prevent flare-ups. Asthma treatment involves two important things: avoiding triggers and taking medicine.
There are many ways to avoid triggers. After your child’s triggers are identified, the doctor will work with you to come up with a plan to avoid them.
For example, if pet dander or mold in your home trigger your child’s asthma symptoms, you can make your home asthma-safe by changing the linens often, vacuuming regularly, and keeping the family pet out of your child’s bedroom. If outdoor allergies (like pollen) are a problem, your child should avoid the outdoors on days when pollen counts are high.
If exercise is a trigger, the doctor may prescribe a medicine for your child to take before physical activity to prevent airways from tightening up. Doctors help people with exercise-induced asthma manage physical activity, not avoid it. Exercise can help people stay healthier overall (in fact, many pro athletes have asthma!).
Getting a yearly flu shot is also important, as illnesses like the flu can trigger asthma flare-ups.
Some kids with asthma only need quick-relief medicine; others need both kinds of medicine to keep their asthma in check.
Asthma care can seem overwhelming, especially at first. But many tools are available to help you care for your child.
An asthma action plan is a care plan that you’ll develop with the doctor. The plan gives detailed instructions on how to manage asthma, including:
Following the plan can help your child do normal everyday activities without having asthma symptoms.
Keeping an asthma diary is another way to help manage asthma, and the use of Peak Flow Meter can help too. This is a handheld tool that measures breathing ability.
By using these tools, giving medicines as prescribed and avoiding triggers, you’ll help keep your child healthy and breathing well.