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Teaching Your Child About Asthma

by Anthony Martinez, BS, and Richard W. Honsinger, MD, MACP, FAAAAI

Asthma image

Your child has just been diagnosed with asthma. Are you ready to explain this complex disease in terms your child can understand? Here are some tips.

Keep it simple.
Don’t get bogged down in the details. When explaining asthma to your child, use simple terms. Making use of diagrams can help describe the disease to your child. Asthma is a temporary blocking of airways due to tightening of muscle surrounding the airways, mucous buildup in the airways, or swelling (inflammation) of the airways.

Talk about triggers.
Diagnosing the precise cause of asthma is sometimes difficult because two or more triggers may be present in one child. Examples of common asthma triggers are

  • allergens, such as pollen or pets;
  • irritants, such as second-hand smoke;
  • medicines (over the counter or prescription);
  • exercise (known as exercise-induced asthma); and
  • colds, other viruses, or respiratory infections.

Knowing what causes your child’s symptoms is important. An allergist has specialized training and experience to help determine what is causing your child’s asthma and how to treat it.

Understand treatment.
Talk to your physician about current treatment guidelines for children with asthma. Your physician should take an active role in making sure both you and your child know how to properly use an inhaler, a nebulizer, a spacer, a peak flow meter, and any other medicines or devices that are needed for proper treatment and management.

Prepare for an emergency.
Despite your best efforts, your child may experience severe asthma symptoms that make it hard to breathe. It may be necessary for your child to have more than one inhaler. A short-acting inhaler, or rescue inhaler, helps quickly relieve the tightening of the muscle surrounding the airways. This inhaler is used in addition to daily treatment prescribed by your doctor; it is not a replacement. Put a sticker on the rescue inhaler or write “Rescue” or “911” in bold along the side of the inhaler so your child can easily identify it in the event of an emergency.


Source: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2011.