Does your child have asthma?

Image of doctor talking to a pediatric patient about asthma

Asthma is a chronic lung illness with common symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness, as well as feeling weak during physical activity and general tiredness. When these symptoms suddenly get worse, it’s called an asthma attack.

Asthma is among the most common disorders in children, and its prevalence is rising. The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital offers comprehensive programs to treat this chronic condition in children and teens. Jeannine Cheatham, MSN, an expert in pediatric pulmonary medicine, answers parents’ common questions about asthma and offers tips for managing this condition.

How do I know if my child has asthma?

The only way to know if your child has asthma is to see a doctor. The doctor can test your child’s breathing and lung function to see if he or she has asthma.

Will my kids get asthma if I have it?

The cause of asthma is not known. Studies show there are environmental and hereditary factors that may predispose a person to developing the condition. That means if someone in your family has asthma, your child is more likely to have it, too.

What medications are used to manage asthma?

Most asthma treatment plans include both long-term and quick-relief medications. Long-term controller medications are given to help prevent airway swelling and mucus buildup. They must be taken every day in order to work. Quick-relief or rescue medications work fast to relax the muscles around the airway.

What is an asthma action plan?

This is a written plan that advises asthma patients how and when to use all of their medications and what to do in an emergency. The patient’s family, school and any caretakers should have a copy. If your child has asthma, talk to your doctor about getting an action plan.

Does exercise trigger asthma?

Asthma triggers can set off asthma symptoms and may differ in patients. Exercise can be a trigger. Other com­mon triggers include allergens like dust and dust mites, furry animals, mold, pollen from trees, grass or flowers, and cockroaches. Irritants that can trigger asthma include aerosols such as hair or bug spray, air pollution, cigarette smoke, and strong odors from per­fumes, air fresheners or cleaning fluids. Asthma can also be brought on by cold air, getting a cold or the flu, and even stress.

Can a child with asthma play sports?

Children and teens with asthma can exercise and be physically active. Your doctor can provide guidelines for enjoying sports in the action plan. Share this with teachers, coaches, and adult staff at the gym or sports center. Some tips for controlling asthma while playing sports are:

  • Know the asthma triggers and avoid exposure to them.
  • Exercise indoors when air pollution levels are high.
  • Wear a mask to cover the nose and mouth when exercising or playing in cold weather. This helps moisten and warm the air you breathe in.
  • Exercise slowly for the first 10 to 15 minutes. End exercise with a slow cooling down activity such as walking or stretching.
  • Stop exercising or playing and use the quick-relief medication or rescue inhaler if asthma symptoms appear.
Jeannine Cheatham

Jeannine Cheatham, MSN

Jeannine Cheatham, MSN, is an experienced Advanced Practice Nurse with a passion for caring for pediatric patients with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, pulmonary conditions, and cystic fibrosis.

Learn more about Jeannine Cheatham
A young patient with a provider in the Comer pediatric mobile unit

South Side Pediatric Asthma Center

The South Side Pediatric Asthma Center is a multi-institution initiative powered by UChicago Medicine's Urban Health Initiative. Through strategic partnerships and targeted outreach, we are working to help children and their caregivers better understand and manage asthma.

Read more about the pediatric asthma center