Asthma: How We Treat

How is asthma treated?

Asthma is addressed in the Breathing Institute

Medications used in the treatment of asthma work to relieve and prevent symptoms by decreasing inflammation and bronchoconstriction (swelling and spasm in the lungs).

  • Quick relief medication provides fast relief of asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing by relaxing the muscles in and around the airways.  This type of medication is known as a bronchodilator.
  • Controller medication is used on a daily basis to avoid asthma symptoms by preventing inflammation or swelling inside the airways. This medication is usually an inhaled corticosteroid. Another type of controller medication is combination therapy. This is a combination of inhaled steroid, to decrease and prevent swelling inside the airways, plus a long-acting bronchodilator medication to relax the airways. A controller medication will not provide quick relief for asthma symptoms and should not be taken to relieve acute asthma symptoms.
  • Steroid burst is a course of oral steroids, usually prescribed for a few days when a patient is having an asthma exacerbation, to help relieve airway inflammation.
  • Asthma Action Plan details the prescribed asthma controller medication, relief mediations, triggers to avoid and when to step up therapy. Asthma action plans are provided at each clinic visit.

All medications may have side effects. Notify your child's healthcare provider if side effects develop. It is very important to take the prescribed medications regularly and as instructed to manage asthma effectively.

Download an asthma action plan in English (.pdf) or Spanish (.pdf) to help guide your child's asthma care.

Things to remember about asthma:

  • Exercise: Children with asthma symptoms triggered by exercise should remember to treat themselves with their quick-relief medication (bronchodilator) 15 minutes prior to exercise. Children with asthma should not have to limit their activity in any way. If your child is having trouble with exercise, you should see a doctor to adjust the asthma care.
  • Tracking Medication Doses: It is important to keep track of how many doses of asthma medication remain in the device. For the medication devices that do not have a dose counter on them, mark the device with a piece of masking tape and keep track of how many doses are used.  Also check medication expiration dates!
  • Prevention of the Flu: It is important for all children with asthma to receive a flu vaccine every fall. The flu can make a child with asthma very sick because the virus attacks the lungs and can cause breathing problems, making asthma worse.  
  • Vacation Planning: It is important for a child with asthma to always have their quick relief medication available to them in case they start to have difficulty breathing, wheezing, or persistent coughing. When planning for a vacation, remember to check that you will have enough controller medication to last throughout the trip, and that quick-relief medication (example: Albuterol) is easily accessible during travel.  
  • School/Camp Information: It is important to share your child's asthma action plan with school and camp. This will help guide those caring for your child if he or she has problems with his/her asthma.

Tips for organizing your child's asthma care:

  • Provide school with an asthma action plan (.pdf) in case symptoms occur at school.
  • Place home copy of an asthma action plan in a visible place in the house where it can be easily read such as a refrigerator.
  • Store all asthma medications and devices in one place, such as a duffle-bag or plastic container. Make this storage container easily accessible for the child and parent.
  • Place handout for cleaning asthma devices in a commonly-used areas, such as on the refrigerator to help remind you about cleaning the devices on a regular basis.
  • Coordinate taking controller medications prior to teeth-brushing in the morning and at night to reduce the chance of forgetting to take the medicine and decrease the possibility of thrush in and around the mouth.

Why choose Children's Hospital Colorado for your child's asthma?

Our asthma program sees more children with asthma than any other hospital in Colorado. We provide comprehensive evaluation, asthma management, allergy testing and education.

Here are some asthma terms you may hear during a visit to Children's Colorado asthma program:

  • Asthma exacerbation – This refers to a period in time where asthma symptoms were occurring frequently during the day and night, and a quick relief medication was needed at least every four hours. Another name for this is an acute asthma attack.
  • Bronchospasm – Tightening or spasm of the muscles around the airways, which makes them narrower and more difficult to get air into and out of the lungs.
  • Inflammation – irritation, redness and swelling of the airways.
  • Peak Flow Meter Readings – A peak flow meter is a small device which indicates how well a child is able to force air out of the lungs Readings are specific to each child, and indicate how the child's asthma is on a day-to-day basis.
  • Triggers – Anything that causes your child to have asthma symptoms.
  • Zones – This term refers to the patient's asthma action plan and consists of green, yellow and red zones which are categorized by symptoms and peak flow readings. This information helps your healthcare provider determine how bad your child's asthma is at that time.