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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Tightening of the muscles around the airway and chronic inflammation cause airways to narrow. This makes it hard to breathe.
The exact causes of asthma are unknown, but genetics play a role.
Certain conditions are known to trigger an asthma attack. These include:
Factors that may increase your child’s chance of asthma include:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. 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's lungs may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-ray.
Your child may be tested for common allergens that may trigger symptoms. This can be done with skin testing.
Your child's oxygen concentration may be measured. This can be done with pulse oximetry.
Talk with your child’s doctor about the best plan for your child. You and your child's doctor should also create an asthma action plan. This is a plan your child will follow to help control asthma and handle asthma attacks. Treatment will vary based on symptoms and the number of asthma episodes your child has. It is important that you stick to your child's treatment plan.
Treatment options include the following:
You can help your child reduce the chance of triggering an asthma attack by making lifestyle changes, such as:
Medications used to treat asthma fall into one of two categories:
Long-term medications are used to avoid asthma attacks, but will not treat an existing attack. Medication may include any combinations of:
Short-term control medications are used to treat an asthma attack. Medication may include any combinations of:
In addition to the medications, children older than 6 months should get a yearly flu shot. Children with asthma are at a higher risk of having complications from the flu.
There are no known ways to prevent your child from developing asthma. You can encourage your child with asthma to reduce the risk of asthma episodes by following the treatment plan and avoiding triggers. General guidelines include:
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Asthma Society of Canada
Canadian Lung Association
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Last reviewed August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 8/10/2015