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Caring for Children with Asthma

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. Asthma is the most serious “chronic” or continuing illness affecting young people today. It causes the tiny airways in the lungs to become inflamed. Your lungs can’t take in air normally because the inflammation makes extra “mucous” (like what you cough up when you have a cold). Asthma is life threatening if not treated properly. It can be managed or even reversed with the correct treatment. This may include taking medication and understanding what sets off your child’s asthma.

Symptoms of Asthma

  • Tightness in chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Night coughing
  • Difficulty breathing while crying, running, or laughing

If a child or teen has these symptoms, don’t wait. Call your child’s doctor right away and see if you need to schedule an office visit.

Why would my child have asthma?

It is believed that asthma can be triggered by the following factors:

  • A family history of allergies or asthma
  • A history of respiratory infection during childhood
  • Exposure to airborne allergens
  • A viral infection during early childhood

How do I manage my child’s asthma?

  • Follow the doctor’s suggestions
  • Make sure that your child takes his/her medications
  • Limit your child’s exposure to asthma triggers


Medications are very helpful for many children with asthma. These include “inhalers” (hand-held tubes that dispense the medicine to prevent or lessen attacks). Your child’s doctor will prescribe the kind of medicine that is right for him or her. Make sure your child uses the medicine as often as the doctor says. This is one of the best ways you can help. Your support will help your child manage during times you can’t be there, too (like school or teen sporting events). Be sure to notify your child’s school about his/her medical needs.

What triggers asthma attacks?

A cold of flu is often the first sign your child has asthma. A child’s first asthma episode may be very severe and need a doctor’s care right away. Infections are just one reason the airways become inflamed. Other asthma triggers include:


When a child has an allergic reaction, the lining of the lungs squeezes together. It may become swollen and produce more mucous, and cause an attack. Children with asthma can be allergic to animals, mold, dust, insects (especially roaches), and some food.


Changes in weather can cause many problems for children with asthma or risk factors for asthma. Cold air is the most serious weather trigger for children at risk for asthma attack.

Smoking and Other Risk Factors

Children and teens who live in households where people smoke are exposed to very serious triggers. Other chemicals in the air, like pollution, paint fumes, cleaning sprays (called aerosols) are very harmful too.


Exercise is a big trigger for young people with asthma. Your child’s doctor may prescribe a medication that helps keep airways open during exercise. With monitoring most children can join in physical activities without the risk of an episode.

Emotions and Stress

When children cry, become stressed, or feel scared, they may have an asthma attack. Emotions and fear can make an episode worse, so helping a child keep calm is very important.

How can Health Partners help me?

Our Healthier YOU Asthma Program is available to any member with asthma.

For more information

Call our Healthier You helpline at 1-866-500-4571 (TTY 1-877-454-8477) to speak with our staff who will work closely with you to help address your medical concerns, answer any questions and provide you with the support and encouragement that you need to manage your condition. 

Additional Resources

The American Lung Association

The Pennsylvania Health Department