Asthma - children

Toggle: English / Spanish

Did you know that asthma is one of the most common disorders affecting children, as many as 10 percent of them? Thankfully, advances in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma have dramatically improved life for these children.

Asthma is caused by swelling and other signs of inflammation in the airways. When an asthma attack occurs, the muscles surrounding the airways become tight and the lining of the air passages swells. This reduces the amount of air that can pass by the bronchioles, or small tubes, of the lung.

Most asthma attacks are caused by triggers, such as pollen, dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches, tobacco smoke, and exercise.

Your child may have asthma if they experience shortness of breath, maybe gasp for air, and have trouble breathing out. When breathing gets very difficult, the skin of your child's chest and neck may suck inward. Your child may cough so hard at night he wakes from sleeping. He may have dark bags under his eyes and feel tired and irritable.

Your child's doctor will listen to your child's lungs. The doctor will have your child breathe into a device called a peak flow meter. This device can tell you and your child's doctor how well the child can blow air out of his lungs. If asthma is narrowing and blocking your child's airways, his peak flow values will be low.

To treat your child with asthma, you will need to work with your child's pediatrician, pulmonologist, or allergist as a team. Your child will need an action plan that outlines his asthma triggers and how to avoid them, how to monitor his symptoms, measuring peak flow, and taking medicines.

You should have an emergency plan that outlines what to do when your child's asthma flares up, at home and in school. Make sure the school has a copy of your child's asthma action plan too.

Your child will probably need to take two kinds of medicines, long-term control medicines and quick relief or "rescue" medicines. Your child will take long-term control medicines every day to prevent asthma symptoms, even when he has none. Your child will need to use quick relief medicines during an asthma attack.

If your child needs to use an inhaler with his medicines, make sure the doctor shows him how to use a spacer device, to get the medicine into his lungs properly.

Today, most children with properly managed asthma can lead a life unhindered by their disease. It shouldn't hold them back from even the highest levels of athletic competition. With proper education and medical management, it is possible to control this disease on a daily basis and prevent asthma attacks.

Asthma - children

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/25/2011
  • Alan Greene, MD, Author and Practicing Pediatrician; also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission ( URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2013 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.