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Together, we can develop a complete plan to ensure your child’s asthma is controlled. Our goals for your child are to allow them to live their life without limitations and prevent future asthma attacks.

Our UW Health Kids team wants to work with you to better understand your child’s asthma. Understanding how asthma works and what can trigger it are the first steps in developing a plan. Being familiar with your child’s asthma symptoms will allow you to act early to prevent an attack from happening. Being part of our research studies can help you understand your child’s asthma even more. When your child’s asthma is under control, they can lead an active life without asthma holding them back.

What is asthma?

Asthma is the most common chronic (long-term) lung condition among children. This means that asthma can persist even though your child might not be having trouble with breathing every day. Asthma causes the lung’s airways to swell and narrow, limiting the flow of air when breathing.

The airways narrow from:

  • Muscles become tight around the airways

  • Airway walls thickening due to inflammation

  • Thick mucus is produced in the airway

  • Airways become "twitchy" or are quick to react to triggers

This information was adapted from print materials provided by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Risk factors

What to avoid

Your child might have sensitive airways that react to triggers.

Triggers are found everywhere and are different from person to person. Some triggers can cause mild symptoms, others more severe. The same trigger can cause different responses each time your child is exposed to it.

Some common triggers are:

  • Allergens (such as pets, dust mites, pollens, molds or foods)

  • Aspirin or aspirin-like medicines

  • Cold air and/or hot, humid air

  • Emotions (such as stress, laughter or crying)

  • Exercise/hard playing

  • Heartburn/reflux

  • Infections (such as colds or sinus infections)

  • Irritants (such as tobacco smoke, smoke from a campfire, strong smells, air fresheners or pollution)

  • Weather changes

The best asthma treatment plan is to avoid triggers as much as you can. Be a detective and try to keep track of those things that can cause your child's asthma to flare up. Preventing or reducing asthma symptoms can be done by avoiding or eliminating triggers, or things that make your child’s asthma worse. Our asthma clinics have more information about triggers and how to avoid them.

Smiling child with sign reading UW Health Kids
UW Health Kids
Our pediatric experts have served the special needs of children for more than 100 years. We focus on each child’s unique needs and offer social and emotional support to help you and your child face even the most complex condition. Our long history includes the creation of medical advances that save lives around the world. Together, we get your child back to health and enjoying being a kid.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Know the signs and symptoms of your child's asthma

Learning to recognize your child’s asthma symptoms is the first step toward helping your child manage their condition.

What does asthma feel like?

The main symptoms of asthma are:

  • Coughing, which often occurs at night, with exercise, or in the cold

  • Wheezing, a whistling noise when breathing

  • Chest tightness, a feeling that something is squeezing or sitting on your chest

  • Shortness of breath, not being able to catch your breath

Your child might feel all these symptoms at once, or just one or two of them.

Learning to recognize your child’s asthma symptoms is the first step toward helping your child manage their condition. The best way to manage asthma is to try to prevent asthma symptoms before they begin.

Asthma attacks

Your child can learn what it feels like when an asthma attack starts. From that, they can learn what to do to minimize the strength of the attack. When your child recognizes their triggers and their symptoms, they can tell you when they begin and you both can act quickly.

It's important to help children recognize these signs before the asthma attack becomes more serious.

Our goal is to control the symptoms:

  • No coughing, wheezing or chest tightness

  • No difficulty breathing

  • No waking up at night because of asthma symptoms

  • Normal activities such as play, sports, exercise or other school or child care activities

  • No episodes of asthma that require a trip to the doctor, emergency room or urgent care

  • No missed time from school or activities for the child

  • No missed time from work for parent

  • Normal (or near normal) lung function

Diagnosing asthma

Our UW Health Kids team consults with you and your child to diagnose asthma. We will discuss your child’s medical history, living environment and symptoms. A physical exam also helps rule out other conditions. The doctor may then recommend additional tests to help diagnose your child’s condition.

Diagnostic testing could include:

  • Allergy testing

  • Blood tests

  • Spirometry (a lung function test)

  • X-rays

  • Methacholine bronchial provocation testing (MBPT)

Your doctor identifies your child’s allergies and evaluates the strength of your child’s immune system. These steps help pinpoint what triggers an asthma attack in your child.

Spirometry testing updateChange to race-neutral reference equations
As part of our commitment to providing the highest quality care and ensuring health equity, we are making a change in our spirometry lab that may affect the interpretation of pulmonary function test results.

Treatments and research

Action plans and research to manage your child’s asthma

UW Health Kids experts provide the education, management and latest treatments to help you and your child control their asthma.

The best way to control your child’s asthma is to avoid asthma-causing triggers and take medicines as prescribed. Our UW Health Kids experts work with you to build an action plan for when your child experiences an asthma attack. Knowing what to do when your child has trouble breathing can make all the difference in managing your child’s symptoms.

An asthma action plan (pdf) tells you which medicines your child should take and when they should take them. 

Asthma medicines

Although avoiding asthma triggers can prevent asthma trouble, medicine is also an important part of treatment for your child to breathe without limitations. Medicine for asthma comes in two treatment types:

Daily controller medicines help prevent symptoms and help to reduce or prevent airway inflammation (swelling), reduce the excess mucus in the airways, and make the airways less twitchy.

Rescue medicines provide quick relief when your child has symptoms.

The medicines used in your child’s care plan will be individualized to your child’s needs. Your doctor regularly reviews your child’s health and asthma symptoms and updates their asthma action plan and medicines as needed.

Asthma research

The UW Health Kids asthma, allergy and pulmonary experts study new medicines and guidelines for treating asthma in children. In the past 30 years, our research team led more than 400 asthma studies focused on:

  • Asthma genetics

  • Asthma treatments for children

  • Impact of colds on asthma

Many of our patients take part in our asthma studies. Talk with your doctor to see if your child can take part.

Meet our team

Asthma experts help your child breathe easier

The UW Health Kids asthma care team includes pediatric experts in allergy, asthma and immunology.

Our providers

Helping families so kids can be kids

Pediatric allergy asthma and immunology


Specialty care close to home

We offer specialized care for asthma at UW Health clinics in Beaver Dam, Dodgeville, Fort Atkinson, Madison, Mauston, Portage, Prairie du Sac and Richland Center.

Patient support services

Everything you need to know about asthma control

Watch our asthma education video to learn about asthma and how we treat and manage the condition in children.

Watch "Wee Breathers" to learn more about asthma