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What is Asthma?

What to Tell Your Child

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Asthma Episode

An asthma episode is an emergency. It can happen suddenly and without warning signs. When you have a child with asthma, you should always be on the lookout for:

  • Wheezing that doesn’t get better after you’ve given her medicine
  • Lips or fingernail beds are turning blue
  • Nostrils are flaring each time she breathes in
  • The skin between her ribs or throat looks like it stretches when she breathes in
  • Talking or walking is difficult
  • Peak flow meter reading is in the red zone

If your child has been diagnosed with asthma, it’s likely you’ve already seen asthma symptoms in action. Maybe you’ve heard the wheeze, or whistling sound, in your child’s chest as she breathes in and out. Or perhaps you’ve rubbed her back as she fought to control a cough. Or felt helpless while you watched her struggle to catch her breath.

Asthma affects your child’s lungs.

The small tubes, called airways, inside of your child’s lungs are always a little swollen and narrow because of asthma. That means they can get more easily bothered by triggers—the things that make asthma symptoms worse.

Asthma symptoms are triggered by different things.

Let’s say cleaning chemicals are one of your child’s triggers. He walks into the bathroom after you’ve just been scrubbing it. His airways become even more swollen and irritated. The muscles around those airways tighten and more mucus fills them. It gets harder and harder for your child to get air in or out of his lungs.

Since each child with asthma has different triggers, it’s important to know what your child’s triggers are so you can avoid them or limit his contact with them. He may have one, two, or more triggers. Make a plan to help your child reduce common triggers.

Asthma can be managed.

Avoiding triggers is one way to help manage your child’s asthma. You should also make sure your child gets enough exercise, sleep, and healthy foods to eat. And, of course, it is crucial that he takes his asthma medicine exactly as prescribed by his health care provider. If you follow these steps, you’ll be helping your child have fewer—or no—asthma symptoms.

Know the warning signs.

Even a child who takes her asthma medicine faithfully may have worsening symptoms, however. And sometimes it’s just impossible to avoid being near a trigger. You’ll have to keep a close watch and help your child learn to identify the warning signs that her asthma is getting worse.

Common warning signs are:

  • Shortness of breath, problems breathing, or feeling like he can’t catch his breath
  • Tight or painful feeling in the chest or throat
  • Coughing and/or wheezing
  • Sneezing
  • Feeling tired or grumpy
  • Feeling sick
  • A reduction in peak flow meter reading

Teach your child how to respond to warning signs.

When your child feels his asthma warning signs happening, he needs to take immediate actions to prevent them from getting worse. Teach your child these three steps:

  1. Tell an adult
  2. Take his quick-relief medicine
  3. Sit down and relax while the medicine does its job. (Note: It’s important that your child does not lie down to rest. Lying down will prevent the asthma medicine from getting into his lungs.)

Watch for signs of an asthma episode.

If your child’s breathing does not improve, she could be having an asthma episode or asthma attack. While not every asthma episode is an emergency, it’s important to know when to call 911. Consult your Asthma Action Plan. If you have a child with asthma, you should always be on the lookout for these signs of a breathing emergency:

Call 911 or go to the emergency room without delay when:

  • Your child’s wheezing gets worse even after you have given her medicine time to start working. (Most quick-relief medicines work within 15 minutes.)
  • Your child’s lips or fingernail beds are turning blue.
  • Nostrils are flaring each time your child breathes in.
  • The skin between the ribs or base of your child’s throat looks like it stretches every time she breathes in.
  • Talking or walking at a normal pace is difficult.
  • Peak flow meter reading is in the red zone.

Don’t wait to get help if you need it.

Call 911 or get your child to the hospital immediately if she is experiencing a breathing emergency.

Asthma Triggers
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Learn how controlling triggers can reduce your child’s asthma symptoms.

Asthma Action Plan
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Use this convenient form to help manage your child’s asthma.

Medicine Quiz
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Take this quiz to get answers about your child's asthma medicines.