Asthma is a chronic breathing disorder caused by the airways or breathing tubes becoming inflamed, narrowed or blocked. When your child has asthma, his or her airways are extra sensitive, which makes them prone to narrowing when they are irritated by viral illnesses like the common cold or sinus infections, irritants like cigarette smoke or strong scents or allergens such as pollen, animal dander or mold spores.
These triggers can often work together in children with asthma. For example, if your child’s airways are already extra-irritated by a cold, being around irritants like cigarette smoke can add to the problem.
For children with asthma, allergies cause inflammation in the airways and make existing inflammation even worse. Inflamed airways are hyper-reactive. If your child has allergies, being exposed to one of his or her allergy triggers can make asthma attacks worse and more frequent. This is called allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma.
Symptoms of allergic asthma include:
- Wheezing (a whistling sound when breathing)
- Chest tightness
- Feeling short of breath when active or exercising
Having both allergies and asthma can also make your child’s asthma attacks more severe when exposed to viruses and irritants.
Diagnosis of Allergic Asthma
If possible, take notes about your child’s episodes and symptoms and bring them to the first appointment. Be sure to write down any episodes of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. If your child already takes medicine for asthma or has an inhaler, note whether using this medicine helps relieve symptoms.
Asking questions about your child’s medical history is an important part of diagnosing allergic asthma. Some of these questions will be about your child’s symptoms, and some will be about family history. The allergist will also ask about whether your child is exposed to common allergens.
After taking your child’s history, an allergist at Riley at IU Health will do a physical exam and lung function tests. The allergist will also do specialized allergy testing to see which allergens could be triggering your child’s asthma attacks. Once specific allergens are identified, the doctor will work with you and your child on a management plan to help your child avoid allergy triggers.
Your child may also need to undergo pulmonary function testing to check how well he or she can breathe.
Once allergic asthma is diagnosed, the allergist will assign one of four severity categories: intermittent, mild, moderate or severe. These categories help determine which treatment options are best to control your child’s asthma symptoms.
The allergist also decides the level of control of the asthma symptoms: well controlled, not well controlled or poorly controlled. How often your child visits the doctor and the type of treatment depends on his or her severity category and how well symptoms are controlled.
Treatment and management for allergic asthma includes:
- Medicines. The doctor may prescribe medicines for quick relief during an episode or for long-term control of asthma symptoms. Medicines may include:
- Quick relief medicines. These medicines are used to relieve acute or new symptoms.
- Long-term control medicines. These medicines are used daily to control inflammation.
- Immune modulation. Allergic asthma involves inflammation of the lungs. When the allergic inflammation is not responding to the long-term control medicines, there may be other allergy-focused or immune modulatory treatments that can be used to change the allergic immune response and help remedy the allergic airways.
- Environmental control. Since many different environmental factors can act as triggers for asthma, a big part of treatment is environmental control, which helps your child avoid specific triggers or allergens. If your child is sensitive to a certain allergen, a large part of asthma education includes learning the best and most effective way to avoid that allergen.
Overall, the goal of asthma treatment is to make sure you and your family have an established plan that includes controlling your child’s symptoms on a daily basis, knowing how to handle an episode and keeping track of your child’s day-to-day condition so he or she can live the most normal and active life possible.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- Asthma is a chronic breathing disorder caused by the airways or breathing tubes becoming inflamed, narrowed or blocked.
- For children with asthma, allergies cause inflammation in the airways and make existing inflammation even worse.
- If your child has allergies, being exposed to one of his or her allergy triggers can make asthma attacks worse and more frequent. This is called allergy-induced asthma, or allergic asthma.
- Treatment for allergic asthma includes avoiding triggers (environmental control), taking asthma medicines and using immune modulation medicines.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Visit the trusted websites below to learn more about allergy-induced asthma.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
This site provides more information about asthma diagnosis, treatment and management.
The American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology offers a wealth of information about asthma on its website.