Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the function and lining of the airways or tubes of the lungs. It narrows the airways and makes it difficult 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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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:
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your child’s lungs. Your child may be referred 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:
Long-term medications are used to avoid asthma attacks, but will not treat an existing attack. Medication may include any combinations of:
Short-term control medications are used to treat an asthma attack. Medication may include any combinations of:
In addition to the medications, children older than 6 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 advise 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. DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 27, 2015. Accessed August 10, 2015.
Asthma overview. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology website. Available at: http://www.aaaai.org/patients/allergic_conditions/pediatric_asthma/diagnosis_asthma.stm. Accessed August 10, 2015.
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: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_Causes.html. Updated August 4, 2014. Accessed August 10, 2015.
10/9/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: 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 http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Bernard A, Nickmilder M, et al. Impact of chlorinated swimming pool attendance on the respiratory health of adolescents. Pediatrics. 2009;124(4):1110-1118.
8/23/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Beasley R, Clayton T, et al. Acetaminophen use and risk of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema in adolescents: ISAAC phase three. Am J Respir Crit Care Med.2011 Jan 15;183(2):171-8.
10/8/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Ducharme F, Chroinin M, et al. Addition of long-acting beta2-agonists to inhaled corticosteroids versus same dose inhaled corticosteroids for chronic asthma in adults and children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(5):CD005535.
5/4/2012 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Woodfine L, Neal RD, et al. Enhancing ventilation in homes of children with asthma: pragmatic randomised controlled trial. Br J Gen Pract. 2011;61(592):e724-732.
8/27/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: 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 August 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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