Answers to questions families often have about caring for their child with asthma

What is asthma and what causes it?

Asthma is a complex, recurrent disease of the airways that causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough (particularly at night or early in the morning). Asthma is episodic in nature and usually reversible, either spontaneously or with treatment. However, chronic inflammation, associated with persistent symptoms, may contribute to airway remodeling that may not be completely reversible. Asthma is one of three atopic conditions (asthma, hay fever, eczema) that appear to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

Symptoms include cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and increased sputum production.

How is it diagnosed?

Initial diagnosis focuses on history and physical exam findings, spirometry, and exclusion of other diagnoses.

What is the prognosis?

Approximately 1/3 of children with asthma will "outgrow" the condition by the time they are adults and these children tend to be those with milder asthma symptoms. Children who develop asthma after age 5 are less likely than those who did so before age 3 to have long-term residual effects. Although there is a risk of severe disease and death with asthma, this is increasingly unusual and the majority of children with appropriately-treated asthma function as well as those without asthma.

What is the risk for other family members or future babies?

Asthma is one of three atopic conditions (asthma, hay fever, eczema) that appear to result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors, so although it runs in families, having one child with asthma doesn't necessarily mean that you will have another child with asthma.

What treatments/therapies/medications are recommended or available?

Treatment for asthma depends on the severity of the condition and the ongoing response to medications. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, has published clear guidelines depending on the number and type of exacerbations experienced by the child. Some children will need occasional inhaler treatments; others will need to be on daily medications.

How will my child and our family be impacted?

Children with asthma that is not well controlled may miss a lot of school causing parents to miss work. If this occurs often, the child should be seen by their primary care provider for alternative therapies.

My mother smokes cigarettes when she visits our house. I have heard that second-hand smoke contributes to asthma, and I have a 5 year old son with asthma. Is smoking in another room in the house bad for my son?

Second-hand smoke can linger long after the person was smoking. The American Lung Association ties second-hand smoke exposure to the initiation and worsening of asthma in children. See Second Hand Smoke and Children (National Cancer Institute).


Patient Education

Using an Inhaler with a Spacer (Nationwide Children’s Hospital)

Help Your Child Gain Control Over Asthma (English) (EPA) (PDF Document 1.3 MB)
Brochure with education, checklists, and asthma action plan items (36 pages); Environmental Protection Agency.

Help Your Child Gain Control Over Asthma (Spanish) (EPA) (PDF Document 656 KB)
Spanish-language brochure (Ayude a Su Niño a Controlar el Asma) with education, checklists, and asthma action-plan items (36 pages); Environmental Protection Agency.


Patient Self-Assessment Record (NHLBI) (PDF Document 54 KB)
A sample record for patients to track asthma symptoms and medication use; from the 2007 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Guidelines.

Services for Patients & Families Nationwide (NW)

For services not listed above, browse our Services categories or search our database.

* number of provider listings may vary by how states categorize services, whether providers are listed by organization or individual, how services are organized in the state, and other factors; Nationwide (NW) providers are generally limited to web-based services, provider locator services, and organizations that serve children from across the nation.


Clinical Trials in Children with Asthma (
Studies looking at better understanding, diagnosing, and treating this condition; from the National Library of Medicine.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: March 2012; last update/revision: August 2019
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Author: Lynne M. Kerr, MD, PhD
Funding: The Medical Home Portal thanks the 2011-2012 URLEND Medical Home Portal trainees group for their contribution to this page.