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.
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:
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:
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:
In addition to the medications, children older than six months should get a yearly flu shot. Children with asthma are at a higher risk of having complications from the flu.
Your child’s asthma may be triggered by allergies. In this case, your doctor may recommend allergy shots. These shots are small amounts of an allergen injected into the skin. Over time, your child will react less to the specific allergen(s). With less triggers, the asthma also decreases.
Sublingual immunotherapy may also be used. This type of treatment involves putting the allergic substances under the tongue, rather than using allergy shots.
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
Asthma in children: complications. DynaMed website. Available at:
Asthma overview. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at:
SW Stoloff. The current and future state of asthma treatment. Clinical Cornerstone: The Current and Future State of Asthma Treatment. 2008; 8(4):26-43.
What causes asthma? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at:
10/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Mireku N, Wang Y, et al. Changes in weather and the effects on pediatric asthma exacerbations. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2009;(3):220-224.
10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
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10/8/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
5/4/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
8/27/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Kim JM, Lin SY, et al. Allergen-specific immunotherapy for pediatric asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis: a systematic review. Pediatrics. 2013 Jun;131(6):1155-67.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Michael Woods, MD