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.
What Causes Asthma?
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.
How Asthma Affects Breathing
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, 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."
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?
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:
a tight chest
a whistling sound while breathing (wheezing)
a fast heartbeat
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.
How Is Asthma Diagnosed?
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 may have a lung function test. This usually
involves testing breathing with a spirometer,
a machine that analyzes airflow through the airways.
How Is Asthma Treated?
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
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.
Most asthma medicines are breathed directly into the lungs (inhaled), but some
are pills or liquids. There are two types of asthma medicines:
act fast to open up tight airways. They can be used as needed during a flare-up. Quick-relief
medicines act fast, but their effect doesn't last long. These kinds of medicines are
also called "fast-acting" or "rescue" medicines.
Long-term control medicines
manage asthma by preventing symptoms from happening. They reduce inflammation in the
airways, which is the cause of the swelling and mucus. (Quick-relief medicines only
treat the symptoms caused by the inflammation.) Long-term control medicines —
also called "controller" or "maintenance" medicines — must be taken every day,
even when kids feel well.
Some kids with asthma only need quick-relief medicine; others need both kinds of
medicine to keep their asthma in check.
What Else Should I Know?
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:
what medicines your child needs and when
what your child's triggers are and how to avoid them