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A chronic disorder with recurrent attacks of wheezing and shortness of breath.

Sex or Age most affected

  • All ages except newborn infants.
  • Boys are more affected than girls.

Signs & Symptons

  • Chest tightness.
  • Breathlessness.
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing, especially at night, with little sputum.
  • Rapid, shallow breathing, with patient comfortable sitting up.
  • Breathing difficulty–neck muscles tighten.

Symptoms of acute attack:

  • Grunting
  • respiration.
  • Exhaustion.
  • Inability to speak.
  • Restlessness or confusion.



The basic problem in asthma seems to be that the lining of the bronchi (air passages in lungs) is more sensitive to certain stimuli, and the bronchial muscle react by going into spasm while the inner lining swells and produces lots of mucus. The narrowed air passages often make the child’s breathing wheezy and cause a cough. Spasm of air passages (bronchi and bronchioles), is followed by swelling of the passages and thickening of lung secretions (sputum). This reduces air-entering lungs to a great degree. These changes are caused by:

  • Allergens, such as pollen, dust, animal dander, molds
  • Foods such as cow’s milk, eggs, nuts, fish and chocolate.
  • Lung infections such as bronchitis.
  • Air irritants, such as smoke and odors.
  • Exercise.

Risk Increases With

  • Other allergic conditions, such as eczema or hay fever.
  • Family history of asthma or allergies.
  • Exposure to air pollutants.
  • Smoking.
  • Use of some drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen.


  • Avoid known allergens and air pollutants.
  • Take prescribed preventive medicines regularly–don’t omit them even if you feel well.
  • Reduce stress.

Diagnostic Measures

  • Observation of symptoms.
  • History and exam by a doctor
  • Chest x-rays.
  • Laboratory blood studies and lung-function test.
  • Allergy testing, usually with skin tests.

Possible Complications

  • Respiratory failure.
  • Lung infection.
  • COPD from recurrent attacks.

Probable Outcome

Symptoms can be controlled with treatment and strict adherence to preventive measures. Children often outgrow asthma. Without treatment, severe attacks can be fatal.

General Measures

  • Eliminate allergens and irritants at home and at work, if possible.
  • Keep regular medications with you at all times. Ask your doctor about having emergency drugs available.
  • Sit upright during attacks.
  • Practice deep breathing each morning to loosen accumulated lung secretions.


Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Expectorants to loosen sputum.
  • Bronchodilators to open air passages.
  • Intravenous cortisone drugs (emergencies only) to decrease the body’s allergic response.
  • Cortisone drugs by inhaler, to prevent attacks, which have fewer adverse reactions than oral forms.
  • Certain preventive drugs through inhaler route.


Stay active, but avoid sudden bursts of exercise. If an attack follows heavy exercise, sit and rest. Sip warm water. Treatment with bronchodilators often prevents exercise-caused asthma.



No special diet, but avoid foods to which your child is sensitive to. Give at least 3 quarts of liquid daily to keep secretions loose.

Contact your Doctor

  • Your child has symptoms of asthma.
  • The attack doesn’t respond to treatment. This is an emergency!
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop. Drugs used in treatment may produce side effects.