Living with Asthma

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Managing Asthma

How Can I Manage My Child's Asthma?

For most kids with asthma, their symptoms can be controlled — sometimes so well that flare-ups are rare. But learning about asthma (what treatments to take and when, what triggers to avoid and when) can be the hardest part of asthma care.

Don't be discouraged. Learn as much as you can, talk to others living with asthma, read up on asthma, and discuss any concerns with your child's doctor.

Once you and your family are used to dealing with asthma, it will become a normal part of your routine. These tips can put you on the right path.

  • Have a plan and stick to it. Your child should have an asthma action plan. These written instructions from the doctor give clear, step-by-step directions on what medicines to take and when, how to avoid triggers, what to do between flare-ups, and how to recognize and manage them if they happen. By following this plan, you will learn how to care for your child and when to call the doctor for help.
  • Take medicines as prescribed. Most kids with asthma need to take medicines. Some are daily medicines (called long-term control medicines) to help keep airways from getting irritated. Others are used only during a flare-up to help open the airways (quick-relief medicines). Most medicines call for the use of a nebulizer or inhaler to help get medicine into the lungs. Sometimes medicine is given as a pill or liquid. The doctor will tell you which medicines your child needs and how to take them.
  • Identify and avoid triggers. Triggers are things that can bother airways and lead to an asthma flare-up. Common triggers are allergens like pollen and mold, weather changes, and viral infections (like the common cold). Finding your child's triggers can take some detective work, but it's worth it. The doctor can help too — for instance, testing your child for allergies if you think they're making the asthma worse. When you know your child's triggers, help your child avoid them as much as possible.
  • Make sure your child gets a yearly flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is recommended for all kids, especially those with asthma. If kids with asthma get the flu, they're at risk for flare-ups and developing a more serious illness.
  • Use tools when necessary. One way to help predict if a flare-up is on its way is to use asthma tools, like an asthma diary and peak flow meter. The diary helps you to keep track of your child's asthma symptoms (when they happen), need for medicines, and more. This can help you learn about your child's early warning signs, and it can help your child's doctor see how well treatment is working. A peak flow meter is a handheld tool that measures how well your child can blow air out of the lungs. It can tell if airways are getting narrow and blocked, and whether your child is at risk for a flare-up.
  • Know the signs of a flare-up. After your child has had a few flare-ups, you may start to notice when a flare-up is going to happen. Early warning signs can help you spot a flare-up hours or even a day before obvious symptoms (such as wheezing and coughing) start. Kids can have changes in how they look, their mood or breathing, or they'll complain of "feeling funny" in some way. Be sure you know your child's signs and are ready to adjust medicines or give them, as needed.
  • Know what to do for a severe flare-up. Know when your child's symptoms call for medical care, or even a trip to the emergency room (ER). Always have quick-relief medicine handy in case your child needs it — everyone who cares for your child (like teachers and coaches) also should know when and how to give the medicine.

Reviewed by: Okan Elidemir, MD

Date reviewed: February 2019

Asthma Action Plan

What's an Asthma Action Plan?

An asthma action plan (or management plan) is a written plan that you create with your child's doctor to help control your child's asthma.

The goal of an asthma action plan is to reduce or prevent flare-ups and emergency department visits. Following a written asthma action plan can help your child do normal everyday activities without having asthma symptoms.

What's in the Asthma Action Plan?

Each person's asthma is different, so each action plan will be too. However, each plan should cover:

  • what medicines to take and when (for students, this can include permission to take medicine at school)
  • a list of possible triggers
  • early symptoms of flare-ups and what to do if they happen
  • know how to manage a full-blown flare-up
  • when to get emergency care

If your child uses a peak flow meter, add the "personal best" reading to the plan so that you'll have something to compare the new readings to.

How Do I Read the Plan?

Many action plans use a color-coded system to help parents understand how to care for their child's asthma. The "zone system," which is commonly used, is based on the red, yellow, and green colors of a traffic light. Action plans use symptoms, peak flow readings, or both to help you see what "zone" your child is in:

  • The green zone, or safety zone, explains how to manage asthma when your child is feeling good.
  • The yellow zone, or caution zone, explains how to look for signs that asthma is getting worse. It also explains which medicines to add to bring your child's asthma back under control.
  • The red zone, or danger zone, explains what to do when a flare-up is severe.

Following the advice in the asthma action plan will help prevent flare-ups. So become familiar with the plan right away, and talk to the doctor if you have any questions.

Your child should learn about the plan too, and older kids should know which steps they can take themselves and when they should get help.

What Else Should I Know?

The action plan should go everywhere your child goes. Keep a copy at home in a well-known spot, and give one to the school nurse, teachers, and anyone else who cares for your child. Explain the plan to them so they'll be comfortable following it.

Review the plan with your doctor at least every 6 months to keep it current. Any time something changes — if your child's medicine dose changes, for example — update the plan and give new copies to all caregivers and teachers.


Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

Date reviewed: September 2017