Your guide to asthma in children: what you need to know about the symptoms, triggers and treatments

Asthma is a chronic disease that restricts the flow of oxygen through the airways, which become sore and swollen. Asthma in children can be more serious because their airways are smaller. According to MedlinePlus, more than 9 million children in the United States have asthma. There are many potential triggers, but understanding and avoiding them can help minimize the frequency of asthma attacks. While there is no cure for asthma, there are many treatment options that can help your child breathe freely.

If you think your child might have asthma, read on, and then consult your pediatrician. If your child is having trouble breathing, seek emergency care.

What are the symptoms of asthma in children?

Asthma can be hard to diagnose in children because it shares symptoms with the common cold and seasonal allergies. Children with asthma may cough frequently, experience accelerated or labored breathing, or wheeze, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI). Your child may not have the same stamina as other children their age, and might try to avoid physical activity that can cause coughing. The ACAAI says that most children with asthma will experience asthma symptoms before age five.

Talk with your pediatrician if your child is experiencing these symptoms. It isn’t easy to measure how well a child’s lungs are functioning, so your doctor may rely on a few different tests while trying to make a diagnosis. For infants and toddlers, a pediatrician may need to rely primarily on symptoms, family history and allergy testing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics — so be prepared to report everything accurately. As Mayo Clinic notes, doctors use the same diagnostic procedures for kids over five as they do for adults, which include breathing tests. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a specialist like a pulmonologist or allergist to aid in diagnosis.

What causes asthma attacks?

What causes asthma in children, what are the symptoms and how can it be managed?When asthma symptoms become worse than usual, it’s called an asthma attack. Asthma attacks can be caused by a number of things. You’ll usually hear these referred to as “triggers.” The American Academy of Pediatrics lists common things that trigger attacks in children, including:

  • Allergens like dust mites, pollen and mold
  • A cold or an airway infection like pneumonia
  • Irritants like cigarette smoke, cold or dry air, and fragrances
  • Exercise and stress

Any one, or a combination of these things, might trigger your child’s asthma. Learning what makes your child’s asthma symptoms worse is an important step in asthma care.

What treatment options are available?

Your pediatrician will help you and your child put together an asthma care plan, which might include emergency inhalers for asthma attacks and long-term medications for prevention, according to Medline Plus. Your child’s doctor might also recommend environmental or lifestyle changes to minimize asthma attack episodes. The American Lung Association provides resources on creating an asthma-friendly environment at home and at school.

Having a child diagnosed with asthma can feel overwhelming, but learning about asthma and your child’s triggers can help you both feel more in control. Learning age-appropriate self-care skills can empower children to feel more confident and less scared of their asthma diagnosis. Many organizations like the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences offer fun, educational activities for kids to learn more about asthma. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a great list of asthma-related resources for kids. Asthma in children requires special care, but with a management plan in place, your child can live a healthy, active life.

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4 responses to “Your guide to asthma in children: what you need to know about the symptoms, triggers and treatments”

  1. Derek Mcdoogle says:

    You stated that according to MedlinePlus, more than 9 million children in the United States have asthma and there are many potential triggers, but understanding and avoiding them can help minimize the frequency of asthma attacks. My daughter has been coming home from school early every day this week because her asthma seems to be getting worse. I wonder how medical professionals decide what type of treatment people with asthma need.

    • Dan Printz says:

      Hello Derek,

      We have reached out to our Allergist/Immunologist to help answer your question. Please see Dr. Casselman’s response below:

      “The medical community’s thoughts on how to classify and characterize asthma has expanded extensively over the years. What was once thought to be a single condition is now believed to be much more complicated and variable in the way it presents. Derek, you are certainly correct in stating that asthma has many potential triggers and categories. For example, many people suffer from symptoms brought on by exertion or exercise which we often considered as a condition called “exercise induced bronchospasm.” Other patients who are highly allergic seem to have triggers with certain allergens in the environment such as the pollens during spring and fall seasons. In this case allergic asthma would be considered. Others have symptoms following infections or cold weather. Our classifications can be expanded even further when we look at the type of cells involved in the disease process. Our asthma treatment is often directed at what we feel the particular triggers are for the patient, if any can be identified. Treatment also focuses on the severity of disease that we feel is present, which is based on the history obtained in the office and more objective parameters from breathing testing that we perform in the office. For this reason it is important for patients to be evaluated thoroughly to identify several things. Firstly, it should be established what the underlying condition is, whether it be asthma, or some other pulmonary or non-pulmonary condition. If asthma is diagnosed, then it is important to identify any potential triggers and asses the severity of disease, so treatment can be immediately begun. I hope this helps to answer your questions and address your concerns!”

  2. Scott says:

    I didn’t realize that stress could trigger an asthma attack. I can see why it would be important to consider a variety of factors when determining what the trigger is. My mom has been showing signs of having an acute case of asthma. I’ll have to point this out to her so she can think about what could be causing it.

  3. Ridley Fitzgerald says:

    It’s good to learn all of this about asthma. I didn’t realize that fragrances could actually be a trigger for an asthma attack. My little daughter has it, so I’ll have to be really careful what sorts of shampoos and lotions she gets.

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