Asthma (FAQ)

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).


Information & Support

Related Portal Content
Assessment and management information for the primary care clinician caring for the child with asthma.
Care Notebook
Medical information in one place with fillable templates to help both families and providers. Choose only the pages needed to keep track of the current health care summary, care team, care plan, health coverage, expenses, scheduling, and legal documents. Available in English and Spanish.

For Parents and Patients

Asthma materials for families, schools, and day care settings
Asthma materials for families, schools, and daycare settings from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology
An excellent, well organized, site for both patients and professionals with indepth resources, guidelines, and educational materials.

Allergies & Asthma (
Focused on helping parents understand and live with pediatric asthma and allergies. Offers links to numerous online articles and videos demonstrating use of inhalers and other devices; sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Asthma in Children (MedlinePlus)
Information for families that includes description, frequency, causes, inheritance, other names, and additional resources; from the National Library of Medicine.

Asthma (ALA)
Information for parents and families about asthma, asthma-friendly environments, advocacy, and more; American Lung Association.

What Happens During an Asthma Flare-Up? (Movie) (KidsHealth)
A 3-minute movie for kids and parents; from Nemours, which offers more information about asthma and many other health conditions.

Asthma (NHLBI)
Addresses multiple aspects of asthma, including causes, signs and symptoms, treatment, and prevention; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Asthma Information (NJH)
Information about asthma, its causes, and treatment. Includes links to videos about use of inhalers and other devices; National Jewish Health.

FAM Allies Education
Information on a variety of asthma-related topics, including illustrated guides for using peak flow meters, inhalers, and spacers; Fighting Asthma Milwaukee program.

American Lung Association
Offers up-to-date information about asthma, tobacco control, environmental health, and research information for clinicians.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation
This website offers free information on asthma and allergies, and education programs for consumers and health professionals. It also provides advocacy to improve quality of life for patients and research to find a cure.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
This website provides up-to-date information for patients, public, health professionals, and researchers.

National Jewish Center
Information on asthma and allergy basics and research for child, parent and health provider.

Breathing Easier with Asthma (Intermountain Healthcare) (PDF Document 2.9 MB)
A comprehensive 36-page PDF about understanding and controlling asthma.

Breathing Easier (Intermountain Healthcare) (Spanish) (PDF Document 1.6 MB)
A comprehensive 36-page PDF about understanding and controlling asthma, in Spanish (Para Respirar Mas Facil Con Asma).

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.