Expert Health Articles

Asthma in Children

Ailing Chen, MD

Ailing Chen, MD

Pediatrician, Caughman Health Center

Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in children. In the United States, nearly 1 out of every 10 children has asthma. This condition causes the airway to be very sensitive to a variety of things leading to increased inflammation. The degree and sensitivity of the airway irritation varies over time. Sometimes, the airway may get narrowed or blocked, causing trouble breathing, which is called an “asthma attack.” 

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms of asthma can appear quickly or develop slowly. Some children have symptoms every day, while others only experience them once in a while. Cough, especially at night time, is one of the most common symptoms. Other common symptoms include: recurrent wheezing (high-pitched noise while breathing), difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest and decreased ability to exercise.

How is asthma diagnosed?

First, your child’s doctor will need to ask specific questions about his or her health, such as: What symptoms does your child have? How long or how often does your child have those symptoms? Is there anything triggering the symptoms or making them worse? Is there any family history of asthma or eczema? Your child’s doctor will also need to do a careful physical exam to rule out other diseases.

If your child is old enough, his or her doctor may test your child’s lung function. One common way of doing this is using a machine called a “Spirometer,” which measures the amount of air and how fast it can be blown out of the lungs.

How is asthma treated?

The goal of asthma treatment is to eliminate or reduce symptoms so children may fully participate in normal physical activity, and to decrease emergency visits or hospital stays. If your child has asthma symptoms more than twice a day, please call and let your doctor know.

The first line of treatment is avoiding asthma triggers for your child. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Don’t smoke. Don’t allow anyone to smoke in your home or around your child.
  • Reduce exposure to allergens which trigger your child’s asthma symptoms. The most common environmental allergens are dust mites, pets’ allergens and pollen. Remove pets from your child’s bedroom if possible, vacuum and dust your home often, and use an air conditioner and filter if needed.
  • Prevent mold and reduce indoor irritants.

Second, appropriate asthma medicines can be used. Your child’s doctor will decide what kind of asthma medicine is best for your child depending on how severe and how often your child has symptoms, and may also vary depending on your child’s age. Medicines come in a variety of forms including inhalers, nebulizers, and liquids/pills that are taken by mouth.

Overall, there are two main groups of asthma medicines:

  1. Quick-relief medicines such as Albuterol, (inhaler or nebulizer), which are used for short term use to open a narrowed airway and help relieve wheezing and shortness of breath. It can also be used before exercise if your child has exercise-induced asthma. Your child’s doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroid medicine if your child has an asthma attack.
  2. Controller medicines, which are used on a daily basis to control and prevent asthma. These medications may reduce inflammation in the airway and relax airway muscles long term. The most common controller medicines used in children are inhaled steroids, or Montelukast.

Your child’s doctor may also give you an Asthma Action Plan with written instruction for all medications and what to do when symptoms occur.

If you have any questions about your child’s health, symptoms of asthma or how your child’s asthma is being managed, talk with your child’s pediatrician or family doctor.