Health Guide

Asthma in children

What is it?

  • Asthma (AZ-muh) is a long-term illness that affects your child's airways (tubes that bring air to the lungs). During an asthma attack, smooth bands of muscles tighten around the airways. This tightening decreases the amount of air that can get to the lungs. Inflammation (in-flah-MAY-shun) (irritation, redness and swelling) during an asthma attack makes the airways even narrower (smaller). Inflammation also causes the airways to make thick mucous. It is harder for your child to breathe because swelling, tightening, and extra mucous makes the airways smaller. Your child may wheeze because of his narrow airways. Wheezing is a whistling or raspy noise you hear when your child breathes in or out.
  • Every child's asthma is different. Some children have mild (not very bad) asthma, while others have severe (very bad) asthma. Your child may have some airway swelling all the time, even when he feels OK. There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled. Medicines can help your child's airways by keeping them wide open and by decreasing inflammation. Your child can learn to avoid asthma triggers. Triggers are things that bother your child's airways and make his asthma worse. Your child's asthma may change in time. Sometimes children outgrow asthma.

What causes asthma? The exact cause of asthma is not known. Your child may be more likely to get asthma because of certain things. If anyone in your family has asthma or hay fever, your child is more likely to have asthma. Your child may be allergic (al-ER-jik) or over-sensitive to something around him. However, not all children with asthma have allergies. Your child's asthma or asthma attack may be triggered (started) by one or more of the following:

  • Air pollution.
  • Animals (skin, fur, and feathers).
  • Certain medicines.
  • Change in temperature or humidity (amount of moisture in the air). Very cold or very hot weather, high or low humidity, or wind can make your child's asthma worse.
  • Cockroaches.
  • Dust, pollen, or mold. Even wearing clothes or using bed sheets that were dried outside on a clothes line can trigger asthma. Pets carrying pollen and dust into the house can also trigger asthma.
  • Exercise.
  • Foods.
  • Gastroesophageal (gas-troh-ee-sof-ah-JEE-al) Reflux Disease (GERD). With GERD, stomach acid flows up into your child's esophagus (tube that connects the throat to the stomach).
  • Infections (in-FEK-shuns). These include colds, flu, and lung or sinus infections.
  • Odor and smells. Some smells such as perfumes in lotions, hairsprays, detergents or fabric softeners can trigger asthma. Cleaning agents and room deodorizers can also be triggers.
  • Smoke. This includes tobacco smoke that your child breathes in at home or in the car. It includes smoke from fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
  • Stress.

What are the signs and symptoms of asthma? Most children with asthma have early warning signs. Warning signs are signs and symptoms that your child feels when his asthma is getting worse. The warning signs are not the same for everyone. Your child's own warning signs may even be different from time to time. You and your child should learn what his usual warning signs are. Then treatment can be started right away. Starting treatment quickly may prevent an asthma attack, or may keep the signs and symptoms from getting worse. Your child may have one or more of the following warning signs of worsening asthma or asthma attack:

  • Breathing or heart beating faster than normal.
  • Breathing trouble. Your child may have shortness of breath (cannot catch his breath). He may say that his chest hurts.
  • Coughing. Your child's coughing may be worse at night or early morning, and it may cause him to wake up. Your child may cough constantly, or have coughing spasms (spells of coughing).
  • Drop in peak flow meter reading. A peak flow meter is a small tube that your child blows into. It measures how well your child is breathing. A drop in peak flow may be the only warning sign for some children.
  • Restlessness or feeling anxious (fearful).
  • Tight feeling in the chest.
  • Tired.
  • Wheezing.

How is asthma treated? Your child can usually be treated at home with medicine and breathing treatments. The medicines used will depend on the severity and frequency of asthma symptoms. But your child may need to go to the hospital if his breathing does not get better. In the hospital your child may need oxygen, medicine, and breathing treatments.

Dietary Measures:

Eggs, peanuts, and dairy products are common food allergies in children. Keep a food diary to learn what food might trigger an asthma attack in your child. Consider allergy testing for your child if it has not been done already.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.

Asthma can be a very serious health problem. The use of herbs and supplements should not take the place of good medical care.

Please check with your caregiver before giving any herbs or supplements to your child.


  • Boswellia (Boswellia serrata) may by helpful for asthma and has been studied in people.
  • Coleus (Coleus forskolii) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in children who have asthma.
  • Picrorhiza (Picrorhiza kurroa) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in children who have asthma.
  • Tylophora (Tylophora asthmatica) may be helpful, and has been studied in people who have asthma.


  • Beta-carotene may be helpful for asthma that gets worse with exercise and has been studied in people.
  • Magnesium may be helpful, and has been studied in people who have asthma.
  • Molybdenum has been used, but has not been studied in people who have asthma.
  • Vitamin B12 has been used, but has not been studied in people who have asthma.
  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) may be helpful, and has been studied in people who have asthma.
  • Vitamin C may be helpful for asthma and has been studied in people.
  • Zinc has been used, but has not been studied in people who have asthma.

Complementary Therapies:

  • In addition to medicine and other therapies, biofeedback may help children with asthma.
  • Massage decreases stress and the need for medicines in some children with asthma.
  • Yoga may also help children with asthma.

Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • Your child has wheezing and trouble breathing even if he is taking medicine to control the asthma.
  • Your child has muscle aches or chest pain.
  • Your child's sputum changes from clear or white, to yellow, green, gray, or bloody, or becomes too thick to cough up.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


  • Your child has more wheezing, trouble breathing, or coughing even though he is taking medicine.
  • Your child is having serious breathing problems. Call 911 or 0 (operator) right away to get to the nearest hospital.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your child's care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat your child. You always have the right to refuse treatment for your child.


1. Bielory L & Gandhi R: Asthma and vitamin C. Ann Allergy 1994; 73(2):89-96.

2. Field T, Henteleff T, Hernandez-Reif M et al: Children with asthma have improved pulmonary functions after massage therapy. J Pediatr 1998; 132(5):854-858.

3. Gupta I, Gupta V, Parihar A et al: Effects of Boswellia serrata gum resin in patients with bronchial asthma: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled, 6-week clinical study. Eur J Med Res 1998; 3:511-514.

4. Jain SC, Rai L, Valecha A et al: Effect of yoga training on exercise tolerance in adolescents with childhood asthma. J Asthma 1991; 28(6):437-442.

5. Kotses H, Harver A, Segreto J et al: Long-term effects of biofeedback-induced facial relaxation on measures of asthma severity in children. Biofeedback Self Regul 1991; 16(1):1-21.

6. Neuman I, Nahum H & Ben-Amotz A: Prevention of exercise-induced asthma by a natural isomer mixture of B-carotene. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 1999; 82:549-553.

7. Rance F, Kanny G, Dutau G et al: Food hypersensitivity in children: clinical aspects and distribution of allergens. Pediatr Allergy Immunol 1999; 10(1):33-38.

8. Vedanthan PK, Kesavalu LN, Murthy KC et al: Clinical study of yoga techniques in university students with asthma: a controlled study. Allergy Asthma Proc 1998; 19(1):3-9.

Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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