Children's, Health and Safety


Respiratory illnesses like asthma are the number one reason why patients come to Children’s of Alabama.  Asthma is an inflammatory lung disease that is very common in children and adults.

Having asthma causes:

  • airway muscles to tighten
  • inflammation to increase
  • swelling in the airways
  • mucus to build up

Airways become swollen, tight and narrow making it hard to breathe.

Common symptoms include:

  • coughing which is often worse at night
  • chest tightness
  • wheezing
  • coughing or difficulty breathing with exercise

In persistent asthma, children have more frequent symptoms and flare-ups.  This is caused by increased airway inflammation, swelling and narrowing that is present every day.

Children with intermittent asthma have few symptoms because they only have rare times of airway swelling and narrowing.

Janet Johnston, CRNP, is a nurse practitioner and asthma educator at Children’s of Alabama.   She said even though there’s no cure for asthma, in most cases families can learn how to make sure their child’s asthma is well controlled.

One of the most important ways to do that is to know the triggers of asthma.

Common triggers are:

  • respiratory infection
  • allergies
  • irritants such as smoke
  • exercise

Oftentimes, just avoiding the triggers can help reduce the occurrence of symptoms.

The exception is exercise. “One trigger you don’t want to avoid is exercise,” she said. “If the child’s asthma is well controlled, they shouldn’t have to avoid exercise.”

Johnston said another concern is making sure the child gets the full dose of medicine through an inhaler alone.  She recommends always using a spacer with the inhaler.

“Using a spacer ensures the proper dose of medicine is going deeply in the child’s lungs,” she said. “It’s important to get the full dose of medicine.  Otherwise, it’s like pouring half of it on the floor.”

Johnston encourages families to have an action plan to help keep their child’s asthma well controlled. The plan should include:

  • seeing the child’s health care provider regularly for asthma
  • having clear instructions about using the inhaler and any other medicine
  • know what to do when symptoms increase
  • know when to call the doctor
  • know when to seek care

Well-controlled asthma means a child is:

  • symptom-free most of the time and not needing frequent quick relief medicine
  • able to play and exercise like other children
  • sleeping through the night
  • not missing school or work due to frequent asthma fare ups


More information about managing asthma is available at

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