What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that causes the airways in the lungs to swell and narrow. When children with asthma are exposed to certain things in the environment, called “triggers,” this causes the airways to swell and tighten, causing symptoms.

Triggers are different for each child and may include things like cold weather, mold, certain medications, pet dander, cigarette smoke or other chemicals in the environment.


Symptoms of asthma include shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing and a tight feeling in the chest. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. In some cases, symptoms can be life threatening. The severity of asthma can change over time.


To diagnose asthma, your child’s doctor may do a spirometry test. This test measures the amount of air the lungs can hold and how quickly your child is able to exhale. In some cases, your child may need more specialized pulmonary function tests to diagnose asthma.


There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled by avoiding triggers and taking medication. There are two types of medication that treat asthma: rescue medicines and long-term medicines. Rescue medicines offer quick relief when symptoms act up. Long-term medicines are taken every day to help reduce airway swelling and prevent asthma symptoms.

Your child’s doctor can help you create an action plan for your child’s asthma. This plan outlines how to avoid triggers, when to take medicine and when to get emergency care.

Learn more about Pediatric Pulmonology, Allergy, Immunology and Sleep services at Boston Children’s Health Physicians.

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