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Airway, Breathing, and Lung Conditions

Handling an Asthma Flare-Up

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Flare-ups can be dangerous, so if your child is having them often and using rescue medication more than a couple of times a week, talk to your doctor. It's possible that your child's asthma action plan needs to be adjusted.

Predicting Flare-Ups

The severity and duration of asthma flare-ups vary from person to person and even from attack to attack. They might happen without warning, with sudden coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing. But because people with asthma have inflamed airways that worsen with gradual exposure to triggers, flare-ups can also build up over time, especially in those whose asthma isn't well controlled.

Flare-ups can and should be treated at their earliest stages, so it's important to recognize early warning signs. These clues are unique to each child and might be the same or different with each asthma flare-up. Early warning signs include:

  • coughing, even if your child has no cold
  • throat clearing
  • rapid or irregular breathing
  • unusual fatigue
  • trouble sitting or standing still
  • restless sleep

A peak flow meter can help predict when a flare-up may be on its way.

Preventing Flare-Ups

Managing your child's asthma includes doing all you can to avoid flare-ups. That means working with your child to:

  • take all medication as the doctor prescribed
  • keep rescue medicine on hand at all times
  • take peak flow meter readings as recommended by the doctor
  • avoid triggers, such as allergens

If Your Child Has a Flare-Up

Not all flare-ups can be prevented, and because they can be life threatening, they demand immediate attention. Your child might need to take rescue medication, visit the doctor, or even go to the hospital. For that reason, you should have an asthma action plan.

Work with the doctor to write this plan, which provides instructions on how to handle changes in your child's breathing. This will help you know exactly what to do, even in an emergency.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: August 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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