Asthma -- Child

Air travels in and out of the lungs through bronchial tubes. Asthma is a chronic condition causing narrowing of the airways or tubes of the lungs. The airways become narrow from tightening of the airway muscles and swelling of airway lining from inflammation and extra mucus. The airway narrowing makes it hard for your child to breathe. There are different degrees of asthma. Some people may have mild asthma with rare flare-ups. Others may have a severe, constant asthma.

  • Causes

    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:

    • Respiratory infection—more common in younger children
    • Exercise, especially in cold air—more common in teenagers

    • Substances that cause allergies include:

      • Pollen
      • Dust
      • Animal dander
      • Mold
      • Food, rarely
    • Sinus infections
    • Tobacco smoke or other chemical irritants
    • Sudden change in weather

  • Definition

    Air travels in and out of the lungs through bronchial tubes. Asthma is a chronic condition causing narrowing of the airways or tubes of the lungs. The airways become narrow from tightening of the airway muscles and swelling of airway lining from inflammation and extra mucus. The airway narrowing makes it hard for your child to breathe. There are different degrees of asthma. Some people may have mild asthma with rare flare-ups. Others may have a severe, constant asthma.

    Inflamed Bronchial Tube
    Inflammed Lung and asthma
    © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask you about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your child’s lungs. Your doctor may refer your child 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:

    • Spirometry test
    • Challenge test
    • Medication trial


    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.

  • Prevention

    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:

    • Avoid strong chemicals or odors like perfume.
    • Avoid challenging outdoor exercise during days with high air pollution, a high pollen count, or a high ozone level.
    • If cold weather triggers your asthma, avoid strenuous activities in cold weather. If you must, use a scarf or mask to warm the air before it reaches your lungs.
    • Avoid secondhand smoke. Do not allow anyone to smoke in your home.
    • Don't use a wood-burning stove or fireplace, including unvented gas fireplaces.

  • Risk Factors

    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 one and common colds before six months of age
    • Premature birth
    • Chlorinated pool use in children who are already at risk for asthma
    • Taking medications such as
      acetaminophen

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms may include:

    • Shortness of breath
    • Coughing
    • Trouble breathing
    • Wheezing
    • Chest tightness
    • Fatigue
    • Complaints of chest pain or odd sensations
    • Difficulty during feeding in infants
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Avoiding exercise or sports

  • Treatment

    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: