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  • Patricia Griffin Kellicker, BSN
Publication Type:




Asthma is a long-lasting health problem. It is a change in how the lining of the airways of the lungs work. Asthma makes the airways narrow and it is hard 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.

Inflamed Bronchial Tube.

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The exact causes of asthma are unknown, but genetics play a role.

Things that are known to trigger an asthma attack are:

  • Respiratory infection like colds or flus—more common in younger children
  • Exercise, especially in cold air—more common in teenagers
  • Common allergies such as:
    • Pollen
    • Dust
    • Animal dander
    • Mold
    • Food—this is rare
  • Sinus infections
  • Tobacco smoke or other chemical irritants
  • Sudden change in weather

Risk Factors

Things that may raise a child’s chance of asthma include:

  • Family history
  • History of allergies and/or eczema
  • Being around tobacco smoke
  • Respiratory infections before 1 year of age, especially bronchiolitis, and common colds before age 6 months
  • Premature birth
  • Chlorinated pool use in children who are already at risk for asthma
  • Taking some medicines, such as aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs


An asthma attack can cause:

  • Chest tightness
  • Shortness of breath and fast breathing
  • Coughing, wheezing, and trouble breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty during feeding in infants
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Not wanting to exercise or play sports


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to the lungs. A specialist who focuses on the lungs may need to be seen.

Children may be tested for common allergens that may trigger symptoms. This can be done with skin testing or blood tests.

The lungs may be tested with:

  • Spirometry test—blowing in a tube to measure the amount of air that is moved
  • Challenge test—measures breath after being around a medicine or allergen


The doctor will create an asthma action plan. This is a plan to help control asthma, handle asthma attacks, and prevent limits to a child's play. Treatment will vary based on age, symptoms, and how often asthma attacks happen. The treatment plan should help decrease the number of attacks or stop attacks from happening.

Treatment options include:


Asthma cannot be prevented.


Medicine used to treat asthma may be long-term or short-term.

Long-term medicine will help prevent asthma attacks. They cannot treat an attack itself. One or more may be used:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids—to prevent airway swelling
  • Inhaled long-acting beta agonists—to relax the airways
  • Oral leukotriene modifiers—to prevent airway swelling, decrease the amount of mucus in the lungs, and open the airways
  • Oral theophylline—to relax the airways

Short-term control medicine is used to treat an asthma attack. It may include:

  • Inhaled quick-acting beta agonists and anticholinergic agents—to open the airways fast
  • Oral corticosteroids—to reduce severe airway swelling




  • Asthma: kids. Centers for Disease Control website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ASTHMA/children.htm.
  • Childhood asthma. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/conditions-library/asthma/childhood-asthma-TTR.
  • Chronic asthma in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/chronic-asthma-in-children.
  • Kim, J.M., Lin, S.Y., et al. Allergen-specific immunotherapy for pediatric asthma and rhinoconjunctivitis: a systematic review. Pediatrics, 2013; 131(6): 1155-67.
  • Normansell, R., Kew, K.M., et al. Sublingual immunotherapy for asthma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2015; 8: CD011293.
  • What causes asthma? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma.


  • Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.