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How to make an asthma action plan for your child

Scott Schroeder, MD is a pediatric pulmonologist and allergist at Tufts Medical Center.Asthma can be problematic for anyone. But kids — who can be more likely than adults to have an attack, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — may need a little extra help managing their condition.

That’s one reason why every child who has asthma will need an asthma action plan: a written plan that spells out how to manage every aspect of their condition, from their day-to-day symptoms to a potential emergency.

“You have to write out specific instructions for what to do,” says Scott Schroeder, MD, Chief of Pediatric Pulmonology and Allergy.

Your child’s healthcare provider will help you make this action plan, and you should review it at every appointment. Some doctors use templates from their state health departments, while others develop their own. Some plans are color coded into green, yellow, and red zones to show when you need to take increasing levels of action. (For example, green may indicate good breathing, yellow may indicate some coughing, and red may indicate hard, fast breathing.)

However you decide to formulate your plan, keep a copy of it with you and give another one to the school nurse, a day-care provider, or any other adult who might need to help your child. Make sure the asthma action plan includes the following information:

1. Asthma triggers

Take note of the situations that tend to leave your child coughing, wheezing, or with shortness of breath. Some common culprits include allergens like:

  • Pet dander
  • Dust mites
  • Mold
  • Tree, grass, and weed pollen

Other triggers, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, include:

  • Weather changes
  • Exercise
  • Smoke
  • Strong odors
  • Viruses or other illnesses
  • Pollution

Record these triggers on the action plan so that you (and others) can help your child steer clear of avoidable triggers. When your child comes down with a cold or encounters other triggers listed on the plan, watch for symptoms.

2. Asthma symptoms

Note your child's most common and troublesome symptoms, including:

  • Nighttime coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing during exercise
  • Coughing while laughing
  • Chest tightness

For his patients, Dr. Schroeder will sometimes write out specific treatment instructions for each symptom.

3. Medications

List all of your child’s medications, then record which dosage to take and specific instructions about how to use each treatment. Say, for example, that your child is supposed to take medication twice a day.

Schroeder will recommend taking the medicine just before he or she brushes their teeth.

4. What to do in case of an emergency

This section of the action plan tells you how to administer a short-acting bronchodilator, nebulizer, oral corticosteroid, or whatever treatment your child’s doctor recommends for situations when symptoms flare.

It may also include instructions for checking your child’s peak flow, a measure of breathing ability, and advice on what to do if the numbers drop too low.

The action plan should also tell you which medications to use and what doses to administer while you are en route to the doctor’s office or emergency department, should you need to go there.

The action plan must also include contact information for your child’s healthcare provider. Call that number immediately if your child has symptoms that are not improving with medication or if your child is having a very difficult time breathing, walking, or talking.

A rule of thumb: “If you feel that something is wrong, call,” says Schroeder.

Last Updated:8/13/2019

Originally published on Every Day Health.