Facts on Asthma in Children

\Asthma is the most common chronic condition among children, but it's manageable with the right remedies.

Medically reviewed in May 2018

If your child has asthma, you know the problems it can cause with daily life. It can disrupt the routine at home, at school and during play; asthma is the leading cause of child emergency room visits and hospitalizations, as well as missed school days. It can also leave children—and parents—tense about the possibility of future asthma attacks. But by understanding the disease a little better, you can help your child successfully manage it. 

Causes of asthma in children 
If you had asthma as a child, there's a likelihood your child will have it. In fact, if one parent has asthma, chances are 1 in 3 his or her child will too. If both parents have asthma, chances are 7 in 10. Also, boys are more likely than girls to develop asthma in childhood. Outside of a possible genetic link, researches aren't entirely sure what causes asthma. 

Childhood asthma symptoms 
The first signs of asthma in a child may occur after a respiratory infection, and may include wheezing. If the condition persists, more symptoms may develop and occur with regularity, including the following: 

  • Intermittent coughing 
  • Wheezing or a raspy sound to breaths 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chest pain or tightness 
  • Trouble sleeping (and resulting fatigue) 

Treatments for asthma in children 
Although there is no cure for childhood asthma, symptoms are manageable. Work with your child's doctor to devise a treatment plan. 

One of the first treatment steps will be to help your child reduce exposure to his or her asthma triggers. If allergies are the cause of your child's asthma, he or she may benefit from avoiding allergy triggers and treating the allergies with medication. 

Treatments include long-term control medications that help prevent childhood asthma symptoms, and quick-relief medications that treat asthma attacks when they occur. Your child's treatment will depend on his or her unique symptoms and needs. 

Long-term control medications are normally taken daily, and may include the following: 

  • Inhaled corticosteroids: The most commonly prescribed long-term asthma medication, they are associated with the fewest side effects and considered safest for ongoing use. 
  • Leukotriene modifiers: Taken orally to prevent symptoms for up to 24 hours, they carry risk of psychological side effects. 
  • Combination inhalers: These inhaled medications contain both a long-acting beta agonist (LABA) and a corticosteroid. 
  • Theophylline: A daily oral bronchodilator, it keeps the airways open. Doctors prescribe it less often now than in the past due to newer, more effective options. 

Quick-relief asthma medications are taken when symptoms occur, and include the following: 

  • Short-acting beta agonists: These inhaled bronchodilators reduce symptoms within minutes. 
  • Ipratropium: An inhaled bronchodilator, it's mostly used for emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but doctors sometimes prescribe it to treat asthma flare-ups. 
  • Oral and intravenous corticosteroids: These medications reduce airway inflammation caused by severe asthma, but may cause serious side effects when used long term. 

Tips for parents 
As soon as your child is diagnosed with asthma, work with his or her doctor to create an asthma action plan that you and other caregivers, such as teachers, coaches, relatives and even the parents of your child's friends, can use to recognize aggravated symptoms and know how to respond to an asthma attack. 

After creating an action plan, the most important thing you can do to help your child manage his or her asthma is to remain calm and encouraging. Help your child focus on the positive, and don't let fear get in the way of encouraging your child to engage in regular activities. 

Also, talk to the parents of other children with asthma. You can learn a great deal from one another and take your knowledge of managing asthma in children to another level. 

Medically reviewed in May 2018. Updated in March 2021. 

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