You probably know people with asthma, or maybe you even have asthma yourself, but it’s different when your child is diagnosed with asthma. You can help your child have as normal and healthy a childhood as possible by learning more about managing the condition and preventing frequent or severe attacks.
What is asthma?
Asthma is a lung condition that makes breathing harder for your child. It affects the tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs. Asthma causes these tubes to become inflamed and narrowed. It can cause wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness. Childhood asthma is not a different disease from adult asthma. The most common symptoms of asthma are:
- Wheezing, a high-pitched, whistle-like sound when exhaling
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- A tight, uncomfortable feeling in the chest
- Worsening of symptoms at night
- Seasonal changes in asthma symptoms based on more cold/flu infections or allergy triggers
What causes asthma?
The exact cause of asthma is not yet known. However, certain risk factors make it more likely that a child will develop asthma.
- Genetics. Asthma runs in families.
- Allergies. If you or your child have allergies (which can also run in families), your child may be more likely to get asthma.
- Lung infections. Infections of the respiratory tract as an infant or young child are linked to childhood asthma.
- Environment. Exposure to allergens, certain irritants, or viral infections as an infant or in early childhood when the immune system isn’t fully developed may play a role in asthma.
- Exposure to smoking during pregnancy or infancy
What triggers my child’s asthma attacks?
Every child’s triggers for an asthma attack are different and your healthcare team will help you identify some possible triggers and then you and your child can look for patterns. The most common triggers for asthma attacks are:
- Allergens such as cats, dogs, pollen, mold, and dust mites
- Cigarette smoke (including second and third-hand exposure), scented products, and cleaning chemicals
- Respiratory infections such as colds, RSV, influenza (flu), or COVID-19
- Emotional stress, such as intense anger, crying, or laughing
- Physical activity, although with treatment, your child should still be able to be active
- Certain medicines, such as aspirin, may cause serious breathing problems in people with severe asthma
- Poor air quality (air pollution) or very cold air
- Insect bites, commonly bees
- Stress from life events
What are the treatments for childhood asthma?
There are various treatments to help your child feel better and thrive. Asthma can be disruptive, but there are ways to manage it depending on severity. Some children with mild asthma do not need to take any medications. In addition, making your house asthma-safe (KidsHealth and the AAP have some great tips) and practicing good hand washing can help you avoid colds and infections, which can go a long way towards preventing asthma flare-ups.
Some children need to take daily medication to treat asthma. Asthma medications come in pill form, inhalers that help your child inhale the medicine into their lungs, and liquid medications that go in a nebulizer for younger children to breathe into their lungs. Quick-relief or rescue inhalers treat asthma symptoms during an attack. Your child should have their rescue inhaler with them at all times.
Can childhood asthma be cured?
No. There is currently no cure for children with asthma. Asthma is a life-long disease. Children do not outgrow asthma, but they have fewer symptoms as they grow into teenagers and adults. Younger children (younger than 6) often wheeze when they have colds, even though they don’t have asthma. This can sometimes lead to confusion about whether a child had asthma in the first place and whether or not they outgrew it.
How can an Asthma Action Plan make my child’s life with asthma better?
An asthma action plan is a personalized plan to help you and your child prevent asthma emergencies by preventing and controlling flare-ups. The asthma action plan follows the traffic light model: green means go, red means stop, and yellow means proceed with caution.
You can download and complete an asthma action plan for your child, or your healthcare provider will make one with you. Share your child’s asthma action plan with their school and anyone who cares for your child so that everyone is on the same page.
While it can seem like a lot of work at first, keeping track of your child’s peak flow values, symptoms, and medications action plans help keep your child healthier and make life with childhood asthma easier. Childhood asthma is a leading cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and missed school days, but it doesn’t have to be. By tracking their symptoms and knowing when they might be entering the “yellow” or caution zone in the traffic light model, you can be prepared to add additional medicines to help relieve their symptoms. Following their asthma action plan will limit and even prevent how many severe attacks your child has – keeping them out of the doctor or nurse’s office, letting them stay in the game or class, and avoiding costly and stressful emergency room visits.
“Asthma Action Plans”.CDC.CDC. May 2, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/actionplan.html
“Asthma in Children.” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NIH. March 24, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma/children
“Asthma-Parents” CDC. CDC. April 24, 2009.https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/parents.html
“Childhood Asthma.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. March 13, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-asthma/symptoms-causes/syc-20351507.
“Do Children Outgrow Asthma?” United States Environmental Protection Agency. EPA. April 7, 2022. https://www.epa.gov/asthma/do-children-outgrow-asthma
“Treatment of asthma in children younger than 5.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. February 23, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-asthma/in-depth/asthma-in-children/art-20044376
“What Causes Asthma?” American Lung Association. American Lung Association. October 23, 2020. https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/asthma/asthma-symptoms-causes-risk-factors/what-causes-asthma.
Razdan, Sheila. “What is an Asthma Action Plan?” Healthychildren.org. Healthychildren.org. January 19, 2021. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/allergies-asthma/Pages/What-is-an-Asthma-Action-Plan.aspx
“What is Asthma?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. NIH. March 24, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma
“Your House: How to Make it Asthma Safe.” KidsHealth. KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/house-asthma.html