Asthma is a chronic disease of the breathing tubes that can be controlled, but not cured. Children with asthma have sensitive breathing tubes that overreact or become "twitchy" and swollen from inside when exposed to things called triggers.

If your asthma is not controlled, you may suffer from periodic asthma flare-ups due to breathing tubes muscle spasms. These spasms may cause you to cough (with or without wheezing) and you may feel tightness in your chest and find it hard to breath.

Using a quick-relief medicine as needed can help the breathing tubes relax, relieve the tube spasms and make breathing become much easier.

People who have asthma also have swelling of the inside of the breathing tubes that can make the tubes narrow and fill with mucus. This is caused by inflammation, which is a major part of controlling your asthma.

Quick-relief (as-needed) medicines like albuterol only relax the breathing tube muscles, and don’t change the swelling on the inside. Controller (everyday) medicines treat the swelling from inflammation and are the most important medicines in asthma.

Most controller medicines must be taken every day to work well. Learn more about asthma medications

Asthma attack symptoms can include:

  • Frequent coughing, especially at night.
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness
  • Waking up with a cough
  • Waking up with breathing trouble
  • Trouble exercising

Asthma symptoms

Common asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. These symptoms often occur at night and with exercise or activity.

The following questions can help you consider whether your child should be evaluated for asthma:

  • Does your child have repeated episodes of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing?
  • Does your child have coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing when they play or exercise?
  • In the last year, has your child missed school because of coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing?
  • In the past month, has your child had coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing in the daytime?
  • In the past month, has your child had coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or trouble breathing at nighttime or with sleep?
  • Have you ever been told by a health care provider that your child has bronchitis?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, it is possible that your child may have asthma. Talk to your child's health care provider about these symptoms.

Goals of asthma control

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be controlled with proper treatment. Treatment of your child's asthma may include medication, as well as learning how to avoid the triggers that cause symptoms to worsen. People with well-controlled asthma can live very normal and active lives if their asthma is under control.

With good control of your child's asthma, your child should:

  • Be able to play and exercise without difficulty
  • Be able to sleep at night without their asthma waking them up
  • Not miss school due to asthma symptoms
  • Not need urgent care or emergency room visits for asthma

If your child is not able to do these things, their asthma may be out of control. Talk to your child's health care provider. They may adjust your child’s asthma plan.

If you answer “yes” to any of the following questions, your child's asthma may be out of control:

  • Does your child have asthma symptoms during the day more than twice per week?
  • Does your child have asthma symptoms during the night more than twice per month?
  • Is your child using their rescue inhaler more than twice per week?
  • Is your child having difficulty with exercise because of their asthma?

Emergency Care

One of the main goals of maintaining asthma control is avoiding trips to the emergency room for asthma flares. However, you should be able to recognize the symptoms that tell you it is time to go to ER in the event of an attack. These symptoms should be detailed on your child’s asthma action plan, and they include:

  • Quick-relief medications (such as albuterol) are not working
  • Effect of quick-relief medication is not lasting for 4 hours
  • Wheezing or chest tightness is severe, or worsening
  • Your child cannot talk or walk because of difficulty breathing
  • Your child's lips or fingernails are turning blue or gray in color
  • You notice retractions - the area below or in between your child's ribs, or areas of his or her neck are pulling in as they are breathing
  • You notice his or her nose opening up wide when breathing

It is always helpful if you have an asthma action plan that you take that with you to the emergency room so doctors and nurses are aware of the medications your child is taking. Once your child is discharged, it is also important that you communicate with his or her asthma provider to decide if any changes need to be made to the current plan of care.

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