KidsMD Health Topics


  • Asthma’s impact

    • More than 22 million people in the United States, including 6.5 million children, have asthma. 
    • Asthma is the most common chronic medical condition among children in the United States.
    • Asthma is a very common reason why children are seen in the Emergency Department or are admitted to the hospital.
    • Asthma is the most common reason why children are absent from school.

    How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches asthma

    For the outpatient diagnosis and treatment of asthma, in addition to your primary care provider, Boston Children’s Hospital has two specialty departments that can help: the Allergy and Immunology Division and the Pulmonary and Respiratory Division. We often work together to treat your child.

    The Division of Allergy and Immunology evaluates and treats children with various allergic disorders to inhaled particles, food, insect stings and drugs, with approaches ranging from oral and inhaled medications to immunotherapy (also known as allergy shots, or allergen desensitization). We also do skin testing to determine what your child is allergic to.

    Our allergy clinics are open in Boston, Waltham, Lexington, Peabody and Weymouth. Appointments may be scheduled by calling 617-355-6117

    In the Pulmonary and Respiratory Diseases division, we can help make or confirm the diagnosis of asthma, provide recommendations for therapy, instruct children and families in the proper way to administer medications and provide long-term follow-up when needed. We perform pulmonary function studies in our state-of-the art pulmonary function laboratory. We can assess response to asthma medications and can perform confirmatory tests such as exercise and cold air challenges.

    Our sweat test laboratory, used when considering the diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, is open five days a week. Sometimes children have problems with their vocal cords, which may cause symptoms that resemble asthma. These children can also be diagnosed and managed in our asthma and exercise program.

    Our pulmonary clinics are open five days a week in Boston, Waltham, Weymouth, Norwood, Lexington, Peabody and Brockton. Appointments may be scheduled by calling (617)355-1900.

    Asthma: Reviewed by Martha Fishman, MD, Dale Umetsu, MD, MPH and Elizabeth Woods, MD, MPH

    © Boston Children’s Hospital 2013 

    Contact Us


    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

    Pulmonary and Respiratory Diseases

    Boston Children's Hospital
    Division of Pulmonary and Respiratory Diseases
    300 Longwood Avenue Fegan-5
    Boston MA 02115

  • What is asthma?

    • The diagnosis of asthma in children is based on recognising a characteristic pattern of episodic symptoms such as wheeze, cough, or shortness of breath in the absence of another condition.

    Risk factors

    The risk factors for developing asthma include:

    • having a parent who has, or had, asthma
    • atopic dermatitis (eczema)
    • hay fever or other environmental allergies
    • wheezing, apart from colds
    • food allergies (such as to eggs, peanuts or milk)


    Symptoms of asthma are caused by inflammation, which causes narrowing of small air passages in the lungs. Symptoms may include:

    • wheezing
    • cough
    • difficulty breathing
    • chest tightness

    Asthma ranges from mild with occasional symptoms to severe with persistent symptoms that make daily life difficult. Even children with mild disease may have severe asthma episodes (exacerbations).

    Long-term outlook

    • There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled and managed with proper use of medication and, when possible, avoiding triggers.
    • Children with asthma can to do everything their friends can do, including playing sports at any level, when their asthma is well controlled.
  • The asthma programs at Boston Children’s follow the latest guidelines from the National Institutes of Health for the diagnosis and treatment of asthma, and develop an individualized program for each child that minimizes both asthma symptoms and side effects from medications. The goals of the treatment program for each child are to prevent asthma attacks, prevent emergency room visits and to maximize peace of mind.

    Asthma and allergies are separate but related conditions. About 80 percent of children with asthma also have allergies, so it makes sense to be cared for in a place that treats both allergies and asthma, and whose specialists understand how they are related to each other. Other conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux, aspiration, or vocal cord dysfunction, can also contribute to asthma symptoms. Our Pulmonary and Allergy clinics both work together with other specialists from gastroenterology, otolaryngology, dermatology, radiology, pulmonary function testing, and social services to carry out a comprehensive diagnostic and treatment plan. We team up with Boston Children’s researchers conducting clinical trials to evaluate new approaches to treating asthma. For severe asthmatics whose symptoms are particularly challenging to control, we have a Severe Asthma Clinic run by a Pulmonologist and Allergist together in the same location. 

    To treat hospitalized children with asthma, our physicians and nurses in the Emergency Department, medical floors, and intensive care units provide around the clock treatments for asthma, to ensure the most rapid resolution of symptoms. We work closely with your children’s primary care provider to provide seamless care for your child.

    Community asthma management solutions

    Boston Children’s Hospital reaches out to families in communities that lack sufficient asthma management resources, and offers various solutions that help patients and families manage asthma.

    • Community Asthma Initiative (CAI) offers a comprehensive care package of care plans, case managers, home visits and environmental remediation.
    • Asthma nurses in all our programs are specially trained to educate patients and families, coordinate care and follow up on other outpatient services.
    • An electronic registry keeps hospital care providers informed on the details of each child’s case history and asthma management plan. 


    Think your child is alone? Hear from other children with asthma. 

    Have you ever heard your child say, “Asthma is very stressful,” “It feels as though somebody is choking me” or “I don’t talk with my friends about asthma because I want to feel normal like they do”? This is how other children have expressed their feelings about asthma.

    Watch this video to listen to children with asthma explain how it affects them physically at school, playing sports and with their friends.

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