Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult to breathe.
There are different degrees of asthma. Some children may have mild asthma with rare flare-ups. Others may have a severe, constant asthma.
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The exact causes of asthma are unknown, but genetics play a role.
Tightening of the muscles around the airway and chronic inflammation with swelling cause airways to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe.
Certain conditions are known to trigger an asthma attack. These include:
- Respiratory infection—more common in younger children
- Exercise, especially in cold air—more common in teenagers
Substances that cause allergies such as:
- Animal dander
- Food, rarely
- Sinus infections
- Tobacco smoke or other chemical irritants
- Sudden change in weather
Factors that may increase your child’s chance of asthma include:
- Family history
- History of allergies and/or eczema
- Exposure to tobacco smoke
- Respiratory infections before age 1, especially bronchiolitis, and common colds before age 6 months
- Premature birth
- Chlorinated pool use in children who are already at risk for asthma
- Taking some medicines, such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
A doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your child’s lungs. Your child may be referred to a specialist. A pulmonologist focuses on the lungs. An allergist/immunologist focuses on allergies.
Your child may be tested for common allergens that may trigger symptoms. This can be done with skin testing or blood tests.
Your child's lungs may be tested. This can be done with:
- Spirometry test
- Challenge test
- Medication trial
Your child's oxygen concentration may be measured. This can be done with pulse oximetry.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-ray.
You and your child's doctor will create an asthma action plan. This is a plan your child will follow to help control asthma, handle asthma attacks, and prevent limits to child's activities. Treatment will vary based on age, symptoms, and how often asthma attacks happen. The treatment plan will help to decrease number of attacks and manage attacks.
Treatment options include the following:
Medicine used to treat asthma may be long-term or short-term.
Long-term medicine will help to avoid asthma attacks. They cannot treat an attack itself. It may be given in any combinations of:
- Inhaled corticosteroids—to prevent airway swelling and inflammation
- Inhaled long-acting beta agonists—to relax the airways
- Oral leukotriene modifiers—to prevent airway inflammation and swelling, decrease the amount of mucus in the lungs, and open the airways
- Inhaled cromolyn or nedocromil—to prevent airways from swelling in response to an asthma trigger
- Oral theophylline—to relax the airways
Short-term control medicine is used to treat an asthma attack. It may include:
- Inhaled quick-acting beta agonists and anticholinergic agents—to open the airways
- Oral corticosteroids—to reduce severe airway inflammation
Exercise may help the lungs work better. Treatment should allow normal exercise and activity levels, including sports.
Changes or things in the air can trigger an asthma attack. The exact triggers may be a bit different from person to person. Some helpful steps include:
- Have allergy tests to better understand triggers. Common problems include pollen, dust, foods, and air pollution.
- Avoid outside time if there are high levels of air pollution, pollen, or mold spores.
- Keep windows closed during seasons with high pollen or mold spores. Air conditioning may help clear allergens from indoor air.
- An air cleaner with a HEPA filter may help clear indoor air. It can be most helpful in sleeping area, heating/cooling system, and vacuum cleaner.
- Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke.
- Check for and control mold growth in the house.
- Vaccines to protect against airway infections. Children older than 6 months should get a yearly flu shot.
- Allergy shots may be considered to reduce reactions to allergy triggers.
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.
Edits to original content made by Denver Health.
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American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology http://www.aaaai.org
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America http://www.aafa.org
Asthma Society of Canada http://www.asthma.ca
The Lung Association http://www.lung.ca
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Childhood asthma,. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at http://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/at-a-glance/childhood-asthma.aspx. Accessed August 28, 2020.
What causes asthma? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma%5FCauses.html. Accessed August 28, 2020.
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