Asthma Education

Asthma is a chronic, lifelong illness that causes swelling, inflammation, and an over-production of mucus in the airways. It can be a life threatening illness if it is not treated and controlled appropriately. Asthma is the most common chronic disease in children.

Picture: normal airway (left) and airway affected by asthma (right).
Illustration by Vanessa Ruiz, 2007.


Common symptoms of asthma

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • changes in breathing
  • nasal flaring
  • swollen belly
  • chest tightness
  • dark circles under eyes
  • itchy throat and/or chin
  • trouble sleeping
  • headache
  • feeing tired or weak




Asthma triggers

Asthma episodes often start when you come into contact with a trigger. There are two main types of triggers: irritants and allergens. Irritants are things that bother your airways, and allergens are things that cause an allergic reaction.

Not all children who have asthma have the same triggers, which is why it is so important for teachers, parents and children to know what their triggers are and how to avoid them.

Common asthma triggers

Allergens Irritants
  • dust mites
  • animal dander
  • mold
  • pollen
  • rodents and roaches
  • tobacco smoke
  • pollution
  • strong odors


  • weather
  • exercise
  • infections
  • emotions

How to handle an asthma episode

1. Stay Calm
2. Remove or move child away from any asthma triggers
3. Do not lie the child down. Have them sit or stand in a comfortable position
4. Have child use their reliever medication (inhaler/nebulizer) as directed by their asthma action plan
5. Call child’s parent/guardian or healthcare provider if symptoms persist

Signs of an asthma emergency

  • difficulty talking (unable to finish a sentence)
  • difficulty walking
  • very fast or very slow breathing
  • swollen belly
  • nasal flaring (nostril size gets bigger with breathing)
  • skin in neck area or rib area sucks in (retractions)
  • pale, gray or blue around lips or nail beds

Any ONE of these symptoms means that the child’s asthma is serious and can be life threatening. It is important to have a child use his or her reliever medication (inhaler/nebulizer) right away and seek medical attention immediately. Remember, call 911 first, then call a parent/guardian.

For more information on asthma, view our Asthma Library