Treating asthma in children ages 12 and older

Treating asthma in children ages 12 and older requires different steps than in younger children. Get tips on symptoms, medications and using an asthma action plan.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Asthma in older children can interfere with sleep, school, sports and social activities. But proper asthma treatment in children can keep symptoms at bay.

You and your child can reduce asthma symptoms by following an asthma action plan. This is a written plan you and your child develop with your child's doctor to track symptoms and adjust treatment.

Asthma treatment in children improves day-to-day breathing, reduces asthma flare-ups and lessens disruptions caused by the condition. By learning to avoid triggers, track symptoms and manage medications, even severe asthma can be kept under control.

Asthma symptoms in children ages 12 and older

Common asthma symptoms in children ages 12 and older include:

  • Coughing, particularly at night
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Avoiding sports or physical activities because of symptoms

Some children have few day-to-day symptoms but have severe asthma attacks now and then. Other children have mild symptoms or symptoms that get worse at certain times. You may notice that your child's asthma symptoms get worse at night, with activity, when your child has a cold, or with triggers such as cigarette smoke or seasonal allergies.

Asthma emergencies

Severe asthma attacks can be life-threatening and require emergency room treatment. Signs and symptoms of an asthma emergency in children ages 12 and older include:

  • Significant trouble breathing
  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • No improvement even after using a quick-relief inhaler, such as albuterol
  • Shortness of breath during minimal physical activity
  • Peak flow meter readings in the red zone

Tests to diagnose and monitor asthma

For older children, doctors can diagnose and monitor asthma with the same tests used for adults. Lung function (spirometry) tests measure how quickly and how much air your child can exhale, an indication of how well the lungs are working.

Your child's doctor may be able to check for inflammation in your child's airways with a test that measures levels of nitric oxide gas in the breath. In general, higher levels of nitric oxide mean your child's lungs aren't working as well as they should be, and his or her asthma isn't under control.

Using a peak flow meter

The doctor may give your child a portable, hand-held device (peak flow meter) to measure how well his or her lungs are working. A peak flow meter measures how much air your child can quickly exhale. Low readings indicate worsening asthma.

You and your child may notice low peak flow readings before symptoms become apparent. This will help you recognize when to adjust treatment to prevent an asthma flare-up.

Feb. 11, 2014 See more In-depth