Caring for pediatric asthma

Help your child feel their best.


Asthma is a long-term problem with the tubes that carry air to the lungs. The inner lining of these tubes can swell, and the muscles around them can tighten, making them narrower. 

Asthma can change over time; sometimes it may be worse, sometimes better. You may not always have symptoms. When asthma is well cared for, your child should be able to do everything someone without asthma can do.

Symptoms of asthma include:

  • Wheezing
  • Coughing, especially at night
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness in the chest

How we determine if your child has asthma

It can be challenging, especially in young children, to be certain that they have asthma. Your doctor will examine your child and ask specific questions about your child’s health.

The information you give will help determine if your child has asthma.

This information includes:

  • Your child’s symptoms, like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath
  • What triggers the symptoms or makes them worse
  • Medicines you’ve tried, and if they helped
  • Any family history of allergies or asthma

Once your child is old enough to be tested, we’ll check their breathing using a spirometer. It measures the amount of air blown out of the lungs over time.

Your doctor may want to check again after giving your child asthma medicine. Note: Not all children who wheeze a lot have asthma.

How to care for asthma

There are two main goals for asthma care:

  • Help your child participate in normal physical activities with few symptoms and side effects
  • Keep your child healthy so that he or she doesn’t need to go to the ER or the hospital due to asthma

Asthma is different in everyone, and symptoms can change over time. How do we decide what asthma medicine is best for your child?  It depends on:

  • How bad the symptoms are
  • How often your child has symptoms
  • Your child’s age

If symptoms happen only once in a while, your child will need medicines for short periods only. Symptoms that happen more often may need controller medicine every day.

Some children need to take several medicines at the same time to care for their symptoms. Some children need to start on several medicines. Then, if they get better, they can take fewer medicines.

There are two kinds of asthma medicine: quick relief and controller medicines.

Quick-relief medicines

Quick-relief medicines are used when you have an asthma attack. They’re called bronchodilators. They help stop the tightness in the chest, wheezing and breathlessness.

Quick-relief medicines also can be used if your child has an attack from exercising. The most common quick-relief medicine is albuterol.

Controller medicines

Controller medicines are used to help cut down the number of days that you have symptoms. They’re not used to help you feel better if you already have a symptom. Your child must take them every day, even if he or she feels well. 

Most children will need controller medicines if:

  • They have symptoms more than twice per week, or
  •  Their asthma wakes them up at night more than twice per month

Medicines like Flovent® and Pulmicort® work very well and are safe for most children if used in the correct dosage.

Note: Always use a “spacer” or “chamber” with an inhaler to get the best out of your medicine. Please talk to your doctor about this.

Asthma action plan

It is helpful to have an asthma action plan written down so you can look at it from time to time. It should include:

  • The daily medicines your child takes
  • What to do for symptoms

Ask your doctor to help you create an action plan for your child.

Exercise-induced asthma

Exercise can trigger symptoms in children with asthma. To keep this from happening, your child can take albuterol 15 minutes or more before exercise. But if it happens a lot, talk to your doctor. You may need to change how you’re caring for your child’s asthma.

Get a flu shot every fall

The flu can be very hard on people with asthma. So, make sure your child gets a flu shot every year. And have everyone who lives in your house with your child get a flu shot, too. 

How well is your child doing with asthma?

Asthma should not keep your child from doing things that healthy children can do. The forms below can help you determine how your child is doing. If you think your child isn’t doing well enough, bring the form to your doctor to talk about asthma care.

More resources about asthma

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The information provided is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for professional health care. You should consult an appropriate health care professional for your specific needs.