Asthma in Children

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is the most common chronic, long-term illness in children. In the Chicago area, about 25% of all pediatric patients are treated for asthma. Chicago has been identified as an asthma epicenter, with higher rates in the city’s South and West Sides. Sixteen percent of Chicago families have a child diagnosed with asthma, higher than state and national levels of the disease.

Asthma is a long-term disease of the airways that carry air to the lungs when we breathe. The symptoms of asthma are caused by swelling, irritation, increased mucus, and tightening of the muscles around the airways in the lungs. When this happens, a child with asthma may have trouble breathing and/or develop a tight feeling in the chest. Other asthma symptoms are fast breathing, coughing, wheezing or needing to use extra muscles in the neck, chest, or abdomen to bring air into the lungs.

Learn more about asthma in the video below: 

Play video

What Causes Asthma?

Asthma flares or “attacks” can be triggered by different things. Potential triggers include:

  • Illness
  • Pollutions
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Animals
  • Pollens
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Cold air
  • Exercise

Exercise is a common trigger of asthma especially in cold air. Usually, symptoms don't appear until the child has been exercising hard for at least five minutes. With proper treatment, children with asthma can be physically active.

Different people have different asthma triggers. Once you know the triggers you can help your child avoid them. If you're not sure what triggers your child’s symptoms, write down what your child was doing and where they were when symptoms occurred.

Removing asthma triggers, prevention, and early treatment of symptoms are the best ways to keep your child healthy.

What Are the Symptoms of Asthma?

Symptoms of asthma are not the same for every child. Some children have symptoms nearly every day and need to take medications. Other children may only have occasional symptoms, one or two times a week.

Mild Asthma Symptoms

  • Breathing is a little difficult and only slightly faster than usual.
  • Your child can easily speak in complete sentences.
  • Your child has a slight wheeze, cough, shortness of breath and/or tightness in the chest.
  • Skin color is good.
  • Your child is alert and knows what's going on.
  • The child is not drawing in the rib cage muscles to breathe.

Moderate Asthma Symptoms

  • Breathing is more difficult and somewhat faster than usual.
  • Your child speaks in short phrases because it's hard to breathe.
  • Your child has a wheeze, cough, shortness of breath and/or tightness in the chest.
  • Asthma symptoms awaken your child or prevent sleeping more than twice a month.
  • Your child is missing school often or skipping activities due to asthma symptoms.

If your child has is experiencing any of the above warning signs, please contact your child's physician.

How Is Asthma Treated?

Once your child has been diagnosed with asthma, they will be prescribed medications to control their symptoms.

Controller medications are used to prevent symptoms. They decrease the swelling and inflammation in the airways. These medications also reduce mucus build-up in the airways. Reliever medications are used to treat symptoms when they occur. They open narrow airways by relaxing the muscles that constrict them.

Asthma Medication Delivery

Watch the videos below to learn how to properly administer certain types of asthma medication.

Holding Chamber with Mouthpiece 

Holding Chamber with Mask

Helping Your Child Use a Nebulizer Machine

Helping Your Child Use Nasal Spray

How Can I Help My Child Prevent Asthma?

Reducing risks is the best way to prevent asthma. Here are some of the ways to do that:

  • Avoid triggers: Common triggers include dust, mold, animals, pollens, cigarette smoke, or cleaning products.
  • Avoid smoke and vape exposure: Secondhand smoke and vape chemicals are the most common irritants for people with asthma. Both can lead to permanent lung damage.
  • Control dust and mold in the home, especially your child’s bedroom: Cover their mattress and pillows with protective dust-mite-proof covers. Vacuum frequently and remove carpeting and rugs in bedroom, if possible.
  • Allergy treatment and testing: Not all kids with allergies have asthma, but allergies are common in those with asthma and can trigger attacks. Talk with child’s physician about safe allergy remedies.
  • Have a written asthma action plan: Your child’s provider can discuss instructions on how to best manage your child’s asthma and provide a written plan to follow.
  • Take your medications regularly: Control medicines can prevent asthma attacks. Continue to give them as recommended even when your child is doing well.
  • Carry your child’s rescue medications: Rescue inhalers or nebulizers can give quick relief of symptoms. Have them readily available.
  • Recognize the warning signs of attacks: Know what to do in an emergency, and help your child learn to describe how they are feeling.
  • Inform teachers, friends, and family: Make sure everyone in your child’s circle is aware of your child’s condition and to look for signs.

Asthma Program at Lurie Children's

Our experts provide thorough evaluation and comprehensive testing for asthma, including education on avoiding common triggers and extensive treatment options.

Learn more about our Asthma Program

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