Conditions & Treatments

Asthma and Children

Approximately 6.5 million children have been diagnosed with asthma according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Asthma is one of the most common, serious, chronic diseases among children, accounting for 14 million absences from school each year.

Asthma and Children

What causes childhood asthma?

The majority of children with asthma have allergies. Even exposure to low-grade allergens (those that don't cause significant allergic reactions) may increase the severity of a child's asthma. In addition, allergies may play a role in undiagnosed asthma cases. Other triggers of childhood asthma may include:

  • Upper respiratory infections, such as colds

  • Inhaled irritants, such as secondhand smoke

  • Certain weather conditions, such as cold air

  • Physical expressions of emotion, such as crying, laughing, or yelling

However, with proper management of the asthma, such as avoiding triggers, taking prescribed medications, monitoring for warning signs, and knowing what to do during an asthma attack, a child with asthma can conduct a healthy and active lifestyle.

Do children outgrow childhood asthma?

How asthma will affect a child throughout his or her lifetime depends on the child. Many infants and toddlers have an episode or two of wheezing during viral illnesses (such as cold or flu). However, the majority of these children don't go on to develop asthma later in life. For some children with persistent wheezing and asthma during childhood, the condition improves during the teenage years. About half of the children who have asthma at a young age appear to "outgrow" it, although the asthma symptoms may reappear later in life. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, asthma can't be cured, but it can be controlled with proper and adequate diagnosis, education, and treatment.

If my child has asthma, can he or she participate in sports?

Photo of children playing soccer

Exercise, such as running, may trigger an asthma attack in many children with asthma. However, with proper management, a child with asthma can maintain full participation in most sports. Aerobic exercise actually improves airway function by strengthening breathing muscles. Some tips for exercising with asthma include the following:

  • Have your child breathe through the nose and not the mouth to warm and humidify the air before it enters the airways.

  • Give your child asthma medication before exercising, as recommended by your child's doctor. If your child exercises daily, the doctor may recommend an inhaled corticosteroid.

  • Have your child carry a "reliever" or "reserve" medications, just in case of an asthma attack.

  • During cold weather, have your child wear a scarf over the mouth and nose, so that the air breathed in is warm and easier to inhale.

Asthma and school

Some children with asthma may need to take their medications during school hours. It's important that the child, family, doctor, and school staff all work together toward meeting the child's asthma treatment goals. To ensure optimal asthma care for your child at school, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology recommends the following:

  • Meet with teachers, the school nurse, and other relevant school staff to inform them about your child's condition, special needs, and asthma management plan in case of an urgent or emergent situation.

  • Educate school personnel on your child's asthma medications and how to assist during an asthma attack. It is also important to ask them not to change your child's asthma care management plan in an emergent situation unless approved by your child's doctor.

  • Ask school staff to treat your child "normally" when the asthma is under control.

  • Before starting a physical education class, educate that teacher or coach on exercise-induced asthma.

  • Check indoor air quality, allergens, and irritants in the school.

  • Take steps to prevent asthma symptoms from starting that could hamper your child's energy level.

  • Ensure your child's emotional well-being by reassuring that asthma doesn't have to slow him or her down or make him or her different from other children.

Giving your child control of asthma throughout the years

Photo of young girl using asthma inhaler while mother watches

It's very important to be honest with your child about his or her disease, the severity of the disease, and the use of medications. Always remember as your child grows that independence is an important goal. Children with asthma don't want to be different, yet they'll need guidance and supervision on any restrictions they might have:

  • Toddlers. This age group relies completely on the parents. These children understand little about the disease. The most important factor with this age group is to try to make medication time a fun one, while stressing the importance of taking the medications. Let the children assist in any way possible.

  • School-age. These children have an increased ability to understand their disease and its impact. They should be taught about their medications, how to exercise caution, and how to avoid their triggers. They should be encouraged to play with friends and begin to monitor their own symptoms.

  • Adolescents. Generally, adolescents resist having to take chronic medications, don't like having restrictions on their life, and don't want to be different. It's crucial to involve adolescents in every aspect of the management of their asthma. They should help with goal setting and help decide which medications work best. Asthma "contracts" can be given to adolescents in order that they may have some control of their asthma, yet continue to allow overall parental supervision of the condition.

    Having asthma doesn't have to mean having less fun than other adolescents. It is important for your adolescent to tell his or her friends and dates what triggers the asthma, such as cigarette smoke or even perfumes or aftershaves, depending on his or her sensitivity. In addition, your adolescent should continue taking the asthma medication as prescribed. If your adolescent has exercise-induced asthma, he or she may need to take a preventive medicine before participating in any physical activities, such as dancing. Always consult your child's doctor if you or your child has questions or concerns.

Treatment Programs

Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:


  • Pediatric Imaging
    The Pediatric Imaging Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging specializes in ensuring the safety and comfort of child patients while providing the latest technology and the expertise of specialized pediatric radiologists.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

  • Inspired Health: Inspiring Kids with Asthma for Lifelong Health
    Inspired Health is a unique program based in the MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s Division of Pediatric Pulmonology that offers expert evaluation and management of both asthma and weight by a multidisciplinary team whose primary goal is to help families identify and implement simple and practical strategies for improving health.
  • Pediatric Asthma Program
    The Pediatric Asthma Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children provides diagnosis and treatment for all children with asthma with particular focus on difficult-to-control asthma, diagnostic dilemmas and second opinions.
  • Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine
    The Division of Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children is a well-established clinical, training and research program. The group provides multidisciplinary comprehensive consultation, diagnostic and management services for a wide array of pulmonary conditions.
General and Gastrointestinal Surgery

  • Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program
    The Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program at Massachusetts General Hospital offers a full spectrum of safe and effective surgical procedures for obesity, weight disorders and metabolic disease.
Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

  • Partners Asthma Center
    Mass General's Asthma Clinic, part of the Partners Asthma Center, provides comprehensive care for patients with asthma and related diseases.

Shedding light on harmful effects of tobacco smoke

MGH Hotline 12.17.10 MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) pediatrician-researcher Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, FAAP, has been a vocal advocate of the health and protection of children from the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

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