What is Asthma?
Asthma (say: az-muh) is a condition that affects a person's airways, which are also called breathing tubes or bronchial (say:
brong-kee-ul) tubes. These tubes lead from the windpipe, or trachea (say: tray-kee-uh), into the lungs. For most kids, breathing
is simple: They breathe in through their noses or mouths and the air goes into the windpipe. From there, it travels through
the airways and into the lungs. But for kids with asthma, breathing can be a lot more difficult because their airways are
Who gets Asthma?
Asthma is more common than you might think. As many as 5 million kids in the United States have it. Asthma affects about one
or two kids out of 10.
What Causes an Asthma Flare-Up?
An asthma flare-up, which some people call an asthma attack, happens when a person's airways get narrower and it becomes a
lot harder for air to get in and out of the lungs. Sometimes the swollen airways produce extra mucus, which makes things pretty
sticky, so it's easy to see why it's hard to breathe.
In between flare-ups, a kid's breathing can be totally normal or seem that way. But during a flare-up, it can feel like
the person is breathing through a straw. A kid with asthma may wheeze (a whistling sound when he or she breathes), cough,
and feel tightness in the chest. An asthma flare-up can get worse and worse if a kid doesn't use asthma medicine. Different
kids have different triggers - things that set off asthma flare-ups. There are a lot of triggers. Some kids are sensitive
to allergens (say: ah-lur-jenz), substances that cause allergic reactions in the airways. Common allergens for kids with asthma
include dust mites (tiny bugs that live in dust), mold (if you've ever been in a damp basement and smelled something funny,
it was probably mold), and pollen (from trees, grass, and weeds).
A lot of kids have asthma flare-ups when they are near furry animals. Cats and dogs both have what's called animal dander
in their fur. This is sort of like dandruff, and it's a trigger that can cause a powerful reaction in the airways.
Some substances can trigger flare-ups because they really irritate the airways and can act just like allergens. These
include perfume, chalk dust, and cigarette smoke. Smoking is always a bad idea, especially around someone who has asthma.
Sometimes an infection can be a trigger and set off an asthma flare-up. If a kid comes down with a cold or the flu, his
or her airways may become more sensitive than usual. In some kids, cold air itself can cause an asthma flare-up, and so can
exercise. In fact, some kids have what's called exercise-induced asthma. This means they have breathing problems only when
Click here for the Asthma Movie
How Is Asthma Treated?
Kids who have asthma should try to avoid things that can cause their airways to tighten. But some triggers - like cats, colds,
and chalk dust - can't always be avoided. That's why kids who are sensitive to those things must manage their asthma by taking
Not every kid's asthma is the same, so there are different medicines for treating it. It's not like curing a sore throat
or an earache, when everybody gets the same medicine. Instead, the doctor will think about what causes the asthma flare-ups,
how fast the flare-ups happen, and how serious they are. Then he or she will decide on the best kind of treatment.
Some kids need to take asthma medication only once in a while, when they have a flare-up. This is called rescue medicine
because it works fast to open the airways, so the person can breathe. Other kids may need to take controller medicine every
day. Controller medicine works to keep flare-ups from happening.