Understand Your Child's Asthma Action Plan

When your child has an asthma flare, it's natural to worry that he's in serious trouble or wonder if he 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 kids 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 where you want your child to be. 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 without coughing

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.

Even when he’s doing well, keep up his regular medication. Your doctor may call it "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 here 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 plus any additional medications his doctor recommends. She might prescribe some that give quick relief when your child has symptoms, called "rescue" medicines.

What should you do 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:

  • He’s breathing 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

Keep it where everyone in the house can see it. Also give a copy to everyone who cares for your child, including:

  • Teachers or day-care workers
  • School nurses
  • Baby sitters
  • Coaches
  • Camp counselors
  • Other family members

 

Make Sure It's Up to Date

Review the plan with your child's doctor at least once every 6 months. If he’s often in the yellow zone, check that he takes his medicine the right way and uses his inhaler correctly. 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 Roy Benaroch, MD on March 11, 2017

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?"

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma."

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

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