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Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the passageways that carry air to and from the lungs. These passages react to triggers such as allergens, chemicals and viruses by swelling, constricting and blocking airflow. When airflow is blocked, a high-pitched sound (wheezing) or frequent coughing can occur. Asthma is also termed "Reactive Airways Disease (RAD)."

Diagnosis and Testing

In very small children, asthma is diagnosed based on an evaluation of symptoms by a physician. The physician may prescribe a bronchodilator, a medication that acts on the small airways, allowing them to open up and allow increased airflow.

If the child is six years of age or older, the most common test used to diagnose asthma is a spirometry, or a Pulmonary Function Test, in which a computerized device will measure airflow at different levels of inspiration and expiration (breathing in and out).

Treatment

If a diagnosis of asthma is made, your child's physician will likely prescribe two kinds of medications: one to control the condition and to prevent exacerbations (controller medications) and another to treat acute symptoms (rescue medications).

Controller medications include inhaled corticosteroids, to prevent inflammation and reduce the number of exacerbations. These medications are available alone or in combination with a long acting bronchodilator.

Rescue medications include 1) inhaled bronchodilators, to open up the smaller airways during an acute episode of symptoms, and 2) oral steroids, to be used when symptoms of acute exacerbation are not controlled with increased inhaled corticosteroids or frequent use of inhaled bronchodilators.

For more information about asthma, please speak with your child's physician.