How to Understand Your Child's Asthma Action Plan

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.

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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The Red Zone

This zone means DANGER. Call your doctor right away if your child's in this zone. Your plan may ask him to take his "rescue" meds. If you think the symptoms are severe, don't hesitate to call 911.

Here's what to watch for:

  • His breathing is hard and fast.
  • His nose is open wide.
  • He has trouble walking.
  • He's not talking well.
  • His ribs are showing.

 

Keep the Plan Handy

This thing is important, so don't hide it. Post it, share it, and hang it where everyone in the house can see.

Also give a copy to everyone who cares for your child, such as:

  • Teachers or day care workers
  • School nurse
  • Babysitters
  • Coaches
  • Camp counselors

Make Sure It's Up to Date

Review the plan with your child's doctor at least once every 6 months. If your youngster is often in the yellow zone, check that he takes his medicine the right way and uses the correct inhaler technique. He may need to get to a higher dose to get his asthma under control.

If your doctor switches your child to a new medicine or increases the dose, note it on the plan. Then, hand out a new copy to everyone who needs it.

Your action plan won't "cure" your child's asthma, but it can make a huge difference in how well he keeps it under control. These simple rules can give you peace of mind when breathing problems flare.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 26, 2015

Sources

SOURCES: 

CDC: "Asthma Action Plan."

Children's Health Network: "Peak Flow Meter."

Nemours Foundation: "What's an Asthma Action Plan?" "What's a Peak Flow Meter?"

NHLBI: "Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma."

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services: "Asthma Action Plan."

 

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