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What is asthma?

Asthma is a breathing condition typically defined by a dry, hacking cough that’s often worse at night, or keeps you awake. In infants and children, asthma may appear as wheezing, or whistling sound when breathing.

If you detect these symptoms, it’s important to have your child evaluated and treated by a qualified specialist. Asthma is a very common medical condition and is highly controllable. Today’s controller medicines allow patients to easily manage symptoms and do all the things they enjoy without limitations.

What are the symptoms of asthma?

  • A dry, hacking cough that’s worse at night
  • A cough that typically keeps your child up at night
  • A wheezing or whistling sound when breathing
  • A chronic cough associated with typical triggers such as activity, allergies, smoke exposure, or illnesses

What causes asthma?

Current medical research indicates that asthma results from the body’s hyper-reactivity to an external stimulus, or trigger, such as a viral infection, exercise, and/or allergies. Symptoms occur as the body tries to get rid of that trigger. While there is no identifiable asthma gene, the condition does have a genetic component and tends to run in families. Early viral infections in infants or cigarette smoke exposure in children has been shown to increase the risk of asthma.

How is asthma diagnosed?

If asthmatic symptoms are suspected, it’s important to get checked it out by your pediatrician and, if not easily controlled or managed, by a pediatric pulmonologist. Your evaluation at Children’s Hospital will begin with some questions to help us pinpoint symptoms. Many of these questions are also asked in the Asthma Control Tests below, which can help you determine how well your asthma is controlled.

  • Is the cough occurring at night?
  • Is it dry and hacking?
  • Is it keeping you up at night?
  • What are the triggers?

What is a pulmonary function  test?

Children age six and up will also usually undergo a pulmonary function test (PFT) in our lab. This test is easy and painless. It’s one of the most common diagnostic tests to measure how well you can move air in and out of your lungs.

How is asthma treated?

If asthma is diagnosed, there are typically two treatment pathways depending on the frequency of symptoms. Both pathways utilize and inhaler that delivers albuterol, a bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways and increases air flow to the lungs.

Frequency of Symptoms


Intermittent - Symptoms are not frequent, and not keeping your child up more than one night a week. May wheeze occasionally when exposed to a trigger or exercise.

Rescue inhaler (Albuterol). If exercise is trigger, child may use inhaler before activity (pre-treating).

Persistent - Frequent symptoms and waking up more than one night a week. Uses rescue inhaler more than once a week.

Controller Medicine (Inhaled Steroid) is taken every day, morning and night to prevent or improve asthma symptoms.


Why is it important to use a spacer with your inhaler?

Whether you are a child or an adult, always use a spacer with your inhaler. This is important because if you use an inhaler directly, the medicine coats the inside of your mouth and is often swallowed instead of going to your lungs. This can also cause stomach irritation. Using  a spacer holds the medicine in suspension, allowing you to inhale the mist down into your lungs where it’s needed and actually works. The spacer for kids includes an exhalation port, so that if the child breathes out, it doesn’t blow all the medicine out as well. If you need a spacer, please talk to a member of our Pulmonology team. Learn more 

How well is your asthma controlled? Take an online test to find out.

The following are links provide easy, online tests you can take at home to see if your asthma well controlled:

  • Children 4-11 years old take this one   
  • Children12 and older take this one
  • Children under age 4: There is no research-driven, validated test for children under age four. For these kids, the family should talk to an asthma specialist to ensure control is adequate.

What can I do at home to reduce asthma triggers?

Here are some steps you can take to reduce allergy and asthma triggers in your home.

  • Quit smoking – Kids in a home with parents who smoke are three times more likely to have ear and upper respiratory infections than kids who don’t. Quitting smoking is not easy, but it’s a modifiable risk factor. Erlanger offers a smoking cessation class that can help you be successful.
  • Don’t use humidifiers – Humidifiers can make asthma symptoms worse because dust mites (a common trigger) thrive on humidity.
  • Avoid ozone-generating air purifiers – Some electrostatic air purifiers create ozone which can irritate the air-waves. Here is a list of potentially harmful, ozone-generating devices.
  • Use dust-mite covers – Enclosing pillows and bedding in hypoallergenic dust-mite covers can do a lot to mitigate this common trigger.
  • Change and upgrade air filters – Change your home air filters every 60 days and use a filter with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) rating of at least 8. You don’t need to buy an expensive MERV 12 filter. A MERV 8-rated filter will do the job, filtering dust, pollen, dust debris, dust mites and pet dander.

Meet Our Team


Matthew Kreth, MD

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Joel Ledbetter, MD

Joel Ledbetter, MD

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Melissa Moser, FNP-C, AE-C, Certified Asthma Educator
Certified Asthma Educator

Melissa Moser, FNP-C, AE-C

This content was reviewed on 3/2/2020 by a physician with Erlanger's Pediatric Pulmonology department. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on specific medical conditions.