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What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs, making it hard to breath. When a child has asthma, it causes repeated episodes of cough, chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These symptoms develop when the small tubes in the lungs become swollen and congested with mucous.

What is the cause of asthma?

No one knows the exact cause of asthma, but it is believed to be a combination of family history and environmental factors. Certain things can trigger asthma symptoms including colds, dust, cigarette smoke, pet dander and exercise. Parents usually become familiar with the things that trigger an asthma flare, making it possible to avoid exposure. 

How is asthma diagnosed?

Asthma can be challenging to diagnose in the younger child. Generally, your doctor will review whether your child has the regular occurrence of cough, wheezing, or difficulty breathing, the severity of symptoms, any notable triggers for these symptoms, as well as family history. For children, 6 years of age and older, a special lung test called spirometry may also be performed to help make the diagnosis. 

How is asthma treated?

An asthma attack can be very scary. The main goal of asthma management is preventing flare ups. This can be achieved by avoiding triggers as well as following your doctor’s instructions for recommended use of medications. Your doctor may also categorize the severity of your child’s asthma to help determine the level of treatment needed. This classification is based on how many times a week or month your child has symptoms, the time of day symptoms occur, and how often they need to use medications to relieve symptoms. 

There are two types of medications used in the management of asthma:

 1) rescue or quick-relief medications: This type of medication helps to quickly open breathing passages, “rescuing” your child from an attack of cough, wheeze, or difficulty breathing. These treatments are administered with the use of an inhaler or nebulizer machine. Albuterol (also known by brand names of Ventolin, Proventil, and ProAir) is one of these medications. Another is Levalbuterol, brand name, Xopenex. 

 2) controller or long-term medications: This type of medicine keeps things calm in the lungs by preventing the buildup of swelling and inflammation. You can picture controllers as medicines that soothe the lungs over time. However, they will not help your child during an actual asthma attack. Controllers need to be used every day in order to work properly. By keeping inflammation at a low level in the lungs, repeated asthma attacks can be prevented. Flovent, Pulmicort, Advair, Qvar, and Accolate are some of the brands used as controllers. 

Once a treatment plan has been developed, it is important to have regular checkups to review how well asthma symptoms are being controlled. The use of a peak flow meter and asthma action plan may be additional components of your child’s management plan. A peak flow meter is a handheld device that measures how well air is able to move out of the lungs. The measurements can be used as an early clue that your child’s asthma may be flaring up. Peak flow meter values are often used in combination with an Asthma Action Plan.

The source of this Asthma Action Plan is the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Used with permission, November 2020.