Asthma Guide for Kids

The Asthma Epidemic

A diagnosis of asthma for your child can be scary. What does it mean? Will they have to use an inhaler? Will they be able to run and play with other kids? Is it life-threatening? At face value, asthma seems overwhelming, but with the right care and treatment, it can be manageable.

Asthma sounds serious because it is a disease. If left untreated, it can be dangerous and compromise quality of life.

Asthma affects the airways that transport air to and from the lungs. When these airways become swollen and inflamed, they grow sensitive to irritation and allergic reactions. Inflammation can cause airways to narrow so that less air passes through. Narrowing may result in coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and other breathing problems.

Poorly treated asthma could mean multiple visits to the ER in the middle of the night. Well-treated asthma can restore activity levels and ease inflammation.

“Left untreated, asthmatic children often have less stamina than other children, or avoid physical activities to prevent coughing or wheezing.”

– American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology –

More kids than ever before are suffering from asthma.

Why is asthma on the rise? Health professionals refer to this surge in diagnoses as the “asthma epidemic.”

Asthma is the most common chronic health issue among children, especially those in low-income and minority populations.

Asthma takes a heavy toll on this younger generation—asthma costs children roughly 13 million missed school days a year.

But that doesn’t explain why asthma has become so prevalent.

In just 30 years, asthma cases have risen by over 60%.

Several children may stay home with asthma-related respiratory issues in each class. While researchers haven’t pinpointed an exact cause of the asthma epidemic, theories abound.

Asthma may be related to genetics in many cases, but other outside factors could be to blame, including environmental exposure in the form of:

Household Chemicals

Poor Air Quality

Indoor Mold

in Food

Scientists have found a strong association between poverty and asthma.

After digging deeper, some researchers believe that living environment may play a significant role in the development of asthma. In low-income areas, deteriorated housing conditions and polluted air can affect young children.

NBC News reports that roach and mice infestations can produce allergens that trigger childhood asthma and allergies.

These pests are more likely to be found in low-income urban housing. A Dateline analysis of a 2011 U.S. Census Bureau report uncovered disturbing statistics: Public housing may have four times as many roach infestations and three times as many water leaks as private apartments.

Roaches produce allergens. Mold caused by water leaks can be toxic. Both factors can trigger asthma.

Conversely, household cleanliness can also be an asthma contributor.

Modern homes are designed to be air-tight, compared to drafty homes from 50 years ago.

Well-insulated houses don’t “breathe” and may keep irritating allergens trapped inside.

Homes with renovated basements are at risk for hidden mold exposure that can also contribute to asthma.

Decreased indoor air quality may be related to a rise in the use of household chemicals. Every new cleaning product on the market exposes children to an array of new chemicals in an airtight house.

At school and at home, kids are enclosed in poorly ventilated rooms that recycle allergens, pollutants, and cleaning chemicals. Commercial cleaners, detergents, and deodorizers are known to irritate the respiratory system. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to enclosed contaminants.

These theories provide one explanation to current asthma statistics:

Asthma now affects roughly 7.1 million children under the age of 18.

In 2011, 4.1 million children suffered from an asthma attack or episode. Asthma is the third-leading cause of hospitalization for children under age 15.

How do you know if your child has asthma?

Your pediatrician can help you in the diagnosis. It’s important to contact your doctor if your child exhibits any of these warning signs:

The Top 10 Asthma Risk Factors

Unfortunately, there is no known cause of childhood asthma, but there are a number of triggers that contribute to the condition. The Mayo Clinic explains that childhood asthma may be related to an overly sensitive immune system, as well as genetics, airway infection at a young age, and environmental exposure.

The Mayo Clinic identifies several key risk factors that can increase the risk of childhood asthma:

Secondhand smoke

History of allergic reactions, i.e. food allergies and eczema

Family history of eczema, allergic rhinitis, or asthma

Exposure to urban air pollution

Being male


Low birth weight

Chronic stuffy/runny nose or
inflamed sinuses (rhinitis or

Severe lower respiratory
tract infection, i.e. pneumonia

Heartburn, i.e.
gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD

Risk factors can increase your child’s risk of developing asthma, while triggers can exacerbate asthma symptoms. In many cases, risk factors and triggers can be one and the same.

It’s important to understand your child’s asthma risk factors to identify and diagnose the condition early on. After asthma has been diagnosed, triggers must be monitored to keep the condition under control.

An asthmatic reaction to a trigger can be delayed, making
the association difficult to pinpoint.

It may seem like your child has a number of asthma attacks without a foreseeable trigger.

At other times, causes of asthma flare-ups may be immediate and obvious. As you get to know your child’s specific condition, asthma triggers will be easier to manage.

The TOP 10 TRIGGERS of childhood asthma include:


Children with asthma are likely to have allergies, and allergies can worsen asthma symptoms; common asthma-related allergies include pet dander, cockroaches, mold, pollen, and dust mites.


Strong emotions can bring on an asthma attack, especially triggered by temper tantrums among young children.

Gastroesophageal reflux

Roughly 75% of asthma patients also suffer from frequent heartburn triggered by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can trigger and worsen asthma symptoms in some cases; GERD treatment may offer asthma relief.

Physical exertion/exercise

An estimated 80% of asthma sufferers experience chest tightness, coughing, and wheezing after exercise, which includes running and playing for children.


Pollution and irritants are different from allergens because they can affect anyone. In asthma sufferers, irritants can cause inflammation and flare-ups. Some of the most common asthma irritants include aerosol sprays, chemical cleaning products, paint fumes, and air pollution.

Respiratory infection

Infections of the airways can incite an asthma attack. Children are especially prone to infection as their immune system develops, including nose and throat viral infection, sinus infection, and pneumonia.

Secondhand smoke

While children should never be exposed to secondhand smoke, wood and tobacco smoke are particularly irritating to asthmatic children.


Stress is a known trigger that can bring on asthma symptoms, along with feelings of anxiety, panic, and shortness of breath.

Strong smells/odors

Similar to irritants, strong smells and odors can trigger asthma in some children. Common odor irritants include deodorant, nail polish, perfume, cologne, aftershave, and air fresheners.


Changing weather can trigger asthma, depending on what region you live in. Wind can churn up pollen and mold in the air; cold fronts can irritate asthmatic airways.

“Many babies who wheeze with viral respiratory illnesses will stop wheezing as they grow older. If your child has atopic dermatitis (eczema), allergies or if there is smoking in the home or a strong family history of allergies or asthma, there is a greater chance that asthma symptoms will persist.”


How to Treat Childhood Asthma

Proper asthma treatment is the key to improving your child’s quality of life and making their condition manageable. While asthma does not have a cure, alarming symptoms can be greatly reduced with the help of a medical treatment plan and the identification of triggers.

If your child has experienced any asthmatic symptoms or related allergies, it’s time to visit your pediatrician.

Every case of asthma is unique.

A treatment that works for one child may not work for another. Your physician will assess and monitor your child to create a personalized treatment plan based on their age, health, and medical history. As a parent, it is your responsibility to cooperate with this treatment plan by removing any environmental triggers that could be making asthma worse.

A physician is likely to start with the lowest dose of asthma medication to determine its effects. Step-by-step, asthma medication dose and frequency may increase to get the condition under control. Once asthma attacks have been minimized, medication will again be reduced. Asthma medication overuse, available in pill or inhaler form, is a major concern to prevent unnecessary side effects among children.

Asthma medication for children will be prescribed as quick-relief or long-term.

Quick-relief is a type of critical emergency medication that can be used in the face of an asthma attack. Long-term control asthma medication does not offer immediate relief but can be used to reduce the severity and frequency of asthma attacks.

Percentage of Children with Active Asthma Who Overused

Quick-relief medications are often administered through an inhaler when asthma symptoms ramp up before an attack; one of the most common quick-relief medications is albuterol.

Long-term control asthma medications may be administered orally or through an inhaler. Long-term control asthma medications may include oral corticosteroids, long-acting bronchodilators, inhaled anti-inflammatory agents, or oral leukotriene modifiers.

Your child may be referred to an asthma specialist in more severe cases. Your doctor will continue to work closely with you to monitor your child’s symptoms, medications, and responses to keep asthma flare-ups and medication use under control.

How to Reduce Asthma Attacks in Children

The best way to reduce asthma attacks in your child is by identifying triggers and sticking to your treatment plan. The importance of removing asthma triggers can’t be emphasized enough.

Some of the most irritating asthma triggers may be right under your nose—in your very own house.

If your child is highly reactive to pet dander, you may have to find a new home for your beloved family cat. If you smoke around young children with asthma, it is imperative to stop immediately. You may see success by making changes to your child’s diet if they also suffer from food sensitivities or allergies. You can manage irritants in your house by limiting your use of chemical cleaning products and by purchasing an air purifier.

In more extreme cases, environmental changes may be needed to protect a child against unnecessary asthma attacks, such as removing carpeting that breeds dust mites and professionally remediating mold from a house.

How to Reduce Asthma Attacks in Children

Mold growing in damp areas or within the walls of your house may not be visible to the naked eye. The NIH confirms that three different species of mold were commonly found in the homes of babies who were later diagnosed with asthma.

The ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) used to measure mold levels in a house can predict a child’s susceptibility to asthma; with a mere 10 point ERMI increase, childhood asthma risk can rise by 80%.

Asthma management may seem complex, but once these control strategies are in place, it will become second nature. You can help your child learn to control asthma at a young age so that it doesn’t control their life.


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  3. “Mold, mice and zip codes: Inside the childhood asthma epidemic.” NBC News.
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