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What is childhood asthma?

Childhood asthma (pediatric asthma) is the most common chronic childhood ailment, with nearly 9 million children suffering from this condition in the United States. Pediatric asthma is associated with tightening of the airways in the chest; it can be mild and only cause a cough and some wheezing, or it can be severe, greatly reducing and impairing breathing function. Currently there is no cure for asthma, but fortunately it can be controlled through proper diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms may include:

  • Recurrent or persistent coughing
  • Wheezing or whistling when exhaling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest congestion or tightness
  • Trouble sleeping caused by coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest congestion or tightness
  • Bouts of coughing or wheezing that get worse with a respiratory infection, cold or flu
  • Delayed recovery after respiratory infection
  • Fatigue or trouble breathing during active play or exercise

Pediatric asthma is easiest to control when it has been diagnosed and treated early. If your child is experiencing symptoms of asthma, contact the Center for Childhood Asthma at Cohen Children’s as soon as possible.

Our approach to diagnosis and treatment

At the Center for Childhood Asthma, our pediatric asthma specialists are here to help your child lead a normal, active life and you a more peaceful one. We will evaluate your child and create a plan aimed at achieving maximum control of their asthma. At the Center, patients are evaluated and managed collaboratively by pediatric allergists and pulmonologists. Our team also includes pediatric nurse specialists and respiratory therapists who are asthma educators. Our pediatric asthma specialists will help you and your child achieve and maintain a successful asthma management plan. We will also provide your child’s pediatrician with updates on your child’s treatment plan and progress.

To diagnose and provide the most effective treatment, we offer pulmonary function testing and complete allergy testing for pediatric asthma. This can include tests that measure how much and how quickly your child exhales, and skin and blood testing for allergies from food, drugs and environmental triggers (an asthma attack is usually triggered by an event or substance). These triggers can include food and pollen allergies, environmental pollutants, viral and respiratory infections, tobacco smoke, exercise and even changes in weather conditions. Extreme stress and emotional reactions can also trigger pediatric asthma symptoms. 

Upon your child's diagnosis of asthma, a unique treatment plan is developed based upon symptoms and how often they occur, triggers like allergens and the age of the child. Working together as a team, the Center specialists provide an individualized and detailed plan of care for patients which addresses all aspects of their asthma, such as allergic and non-allergic triggers, sinus disease, anatomical abnormalities and sleep apnea. The goal of treatment is to get your child’s asthma symptoms under control so that they are not disruptive to daily life.

There are two ways to treat pediatric asthma, and in most cases, you can take a combined approach to controlling flare-ups. The first line of defense is a daily preventive medication. These can be inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, theophylline and combination inhalers. The second line of defense is the rescue or fast acting inhalers. These include medications such as short-acting beta antagonists, ipratropium and oral and intravenous corticosteroids. When the medications are prescribed, the doctor will explain what the medication does, how it is administered and possible side effects. We encourage you to ask any questions you may have. Beyond the basic treatment of asthma, allergen immunotherapy and biologic therapy are provided as options for treatment in difficult cases.

The specialists in the Center for Childhood Asthma are dedicated to research because they know that advancements in science can be helpful to patients with asthma. All of our physicians are involved in cutting-edge research to better understand the pathophysiology of childhood asthma. Patients will have the opportunity to participate in research studies.