Pediatric Respiratory and Immunology Center
Hasbro Children's Hospital


What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease marked by narrowed airways and excessive production of mucus. 

More than 26 million Americans have asthma, and about seven million are children. While most have mild to moderate asthma, about 10 percent have severe asthma that standard medications don’t control. 

In severe acute cases, you may have to seek treatment for your child at a hospital emergency department or urgent care center.   

What Causes Asthma?

A combination of environmental and inherited factors likely causes asthma, but it’s not known for certain.

For some people, attacks may be triggered by:

  • Exercise, especially in cold, dry weather.
  • Upper respiratory infections (“colds”).
  • Environmental factors (chemicals or dust) at school or work.
  • Allergies to airborne particles of pollen, mold, pet dander, and more.

Risk factors include having a parent or sibling who has asthma; exposure to secondhand smoke or other kinds of air pollution; and having an allergic condition such as rhinitis (hay fever) or atopic dermatitis.

The course of the illness and its intensity vary widely from patient to patient. Severe attacks can be life-threatening.

Asthma has been on the rise since the early 1980s, and the percentage of young Rhode Islanders who are affected exceeds the national average.     

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Asthma?

The signs and symptoms of asthma are:

  • Chronic coughing.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Tightness in the chest.
  • Wheezing.
  • Breathing through the mouth.
  • Increased pulse rate, a feeling of nervousness, anxiety, or irritability.

When Should You Bring Your Child to a Doctor?

It’s important to begin treating asthma as soon as possible to keep the disease from worsening and causing lung damage.

How is Asthma Diagnosed?

Your physician or a specialist will review your child’s medical history, do a physical exam, and order diagnostic tests, such as a lung function test and possibly imaging (X-rays) of the lungs. A peak flow meter may be used at home or at routine visits to measure your child’s breathing. 

What Can I Do About Asthma?

Asthma isn’t curable, but there are steps you and your child can take to control the disease. These include:

  • Carefully following the plan that is prescribed by your child’s doctor.
  • Taking medicine as ordered, and using correct technique.
  • Avoiding triggers such as mold spores, pollens, pet dander, and air pollutants.
  • Treating attacks early so they don’t become more severe.

Your physician will share more strategies to lessen asthma attacks in number or intensity. 

What Treatment is Available for Asthma?

Asthma can’t be cured, but medicines can control it. A quick-relief inhaler that dispenses albuterol is one. Albuterol also can be given by using a nebulizer, a device that dispenses a fine mist of medicine that the child inhales. 

If your child struggles with severe asthma, the experts of the Severe Asthma Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital can help.

Biologic therapy may help bring your son's or daughter’s severe asthma under control. These medicines, given by injection or by intravenous infusion every few weeks, work by targeting a cell or protein in the body that stimulates airway inflammation.

If your child’s physicians prescribe biologic therapy, it can be administered at the Pediatric Respiratory and Immunology Center in partnership with Lifespan Pharmacy.

We take a team approach to bringing a young patient’s asthma under control. When needed, we work closely with our colleagues in gastroenterology, otolaryngology, psychology, psychiatry, and sleep medicine to ensure that every child gets the most effective care.

Following up regularly with your child’s physician is a necessity, to monitor the illness and adjust medicines as needed for best control.

Learn about treatment at Lifespan for more pediatric asthma and allergy conditions