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Asthma Health Center

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How to Understand Your Child's Asthma Action Plan

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When your child has asthma, it's natural to worry if he's in serious trouble or just needs a tweak to his medicine. That's where an action plan can help. It lays out the symptoms you should watch for and the steps to take to get his breathing under control.

Your child's doctor will help you create a plan that's right for him. Most use a simple system that's set up like a traffic light: green for "go," yellow for "caution," and red for "stop -- danger!" See how your child fits into each color zone and you'll know how to respond.

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In the past, doctors had children breathe into a tube called a "peak flow meter" to measure how much air they put out. These days, many doctors instead ask you to watch your child's behavior and look for specific signs to see which zone he's in.

The Green Zone

This is the best spot for your child. You'll know he's in the green zone when he:

  • Is breathing easy
  • Isn't coughing or wheezing
  • Can do his regular activities
  • Sleeps through the night

If you can say "yes" to those four items, he's doing well. No need to hold him back from his usual routine. Let him enjoy school activities and playtime, too.

Keep up his regular medication. Your doctor may refer to this as "controller" medicine because it keeps his asthma in check over the long haul. Make sure you follow the instructions for the dose and when to take it.

The Yellow Zone

Think of this category as a big yellow "caution" sign. You'll know your child belongs there when he:

  • Coughs
  • Looks like he's short of breath
  • Wheezes
  • Has some trouble doing his usual activities
  • Has a tight feeling in his chest
  • Wakes up at night with breathing problems

If he has some or all of those, make sure he's taking his regular treatment.

Your doctor will also ask you to add medications that give quick relief to your child's symptoms. He may call these "rescue" medicines.

What happens if the medications don't help? It depends on your plan. Your doctor may tell you to repeat the doses or call his office. Either way, keep in mind that your goal is to get your child back in the green zone.

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