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 doesnt get better after youve 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, its likely youve already seen asthma symptoms in action. Maybe youve heard the wheeze, or whistling sound, in your childs chest as she breathes in and out. Or perhaps youve 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 childs lungs.

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

Asthma symptoms are triggered by different things.

Lets say cleaning chemicals are one of your childs triggers. He walks into the bathroom after youve 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, its important to know what your childs 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 childs 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, youll be helping your child have feweror noasthma symptoms.

Know the warning signs.

Even a child who takes her asthma medicine faithfully may have worsening symptoms, however. And sometimes its just impossible to avoid being near a trigger. Youll 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 cant 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: Its 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 childs breathing does not improve, she could be having an asthma episode or asthma attack. While not every asthma episode is an emergency, its 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 childs wheezing gets worse even after you have given her medicine time to start working. (Most quick-relief medicines work within 15 minutes.)
  • Your childs 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 childs 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.

Dont 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 childs asthma symptoms.

Asthma Action Plan
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Use this convenient form to help manage your childs asthma.

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