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What Should Parents/Caregivers Know about Asthma?


One in five children in Ontario has asthma, a chronic lung disease that affects the airways. Asthma can be fatal without proper management and access to medicines. This guide is designed to inform parents about managing their child’s asthma: the triggers, the medicines and the importance of having a written asthma action plan.

What is an asthma trigger?

A trigger is something that can make asthma worse. Triggers in schools may include:

  • viruses (the common cold)
  • dust or dust mites
  • mould
  • pet dander
  • scented markers
  • chalk dust
  • cleaning products
  • perfumes
  • scented body lotions
  • dust from building repairs while students and staff are at school
  • smoke
  • exercise

What medicines are used to manage asthma?

There are usually two categories of asthma medicine:

  1. Rescue/reliever inhalers are usually blue and provide quick relief for asthma symptoms. Your child should have easy access to his/her reliever inhaler when needed. Side effects of the rescue inhaler can be shakiness and rapid or irregular heartbeat.
    The metered dose inhaler (MDI), also called a puffer, is probably the one most prescribed for children and teens with or without a spacer (valved-holding chamber). It is recommended that a spacer be used with a puffer (metered dose inhaler). Other types of inhalers could be a turbuhaler or a diskus           
  2. Controller inhalers are usually taken every day to control asthma by reducing swelling inside the airway. Most people with asthma use an anti-inflammatory medication or corticosteroid inhaler as pictured below.
    They are usually taken in the morning and at night so generally not taken to school (unless the student will be participating in an overnight activity). Make sure your child knows that inhalers are medicines and should not be shared with other children.

Will my child be able to carry their reliever medicines at school?

Yes, with your permission your child will be able to carry their own inhaler. Ensure that you and your child know which inhaler relieves symptoms and which one controls them. Also, learn how to use them properly at

What are the common symptoms of asthma?

Coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and production of mucus (phlegm).

What are the signs of worsening asthma?

Your child’s asthma is getting worse when he/she:

  1. is using a reliever inhaler four or more times a week including prior to exercise
  2. has asthma symptoms such as cough, wheeze, shortness of breath four or more days a week
  3. wakes up at least one night a week with asthma symptoms
  4. misses school because of asthma symptoms
  5. is having difficulty with activities/sports (even playing a wind instrument).

Teach your child about asthma control. Tell him/her to let a teacher/coach know about any asthma symptoms. The teacher/coach will inform you so that you can take steps to get your child’s asthma under control.           

If my child has asthma, should he/she be able to exercise?

Yes. Exercise is important. Even though exercise can trigger asthma in some children, your child should be able to participate in exercise if his/her asthma is under control. Here are a few guidelines for teachers/coaches to follow.

  1. Have the children do a 10-15 minute warmup before exercising and do a cool down afterwards
  2. Your child may need to use their inhaler 10-15 minutes before exercise
  3. Be aware of environmental conditions, such as very hot or cold weather or smog. It may be necessary to exercise indoors or reschedule the activity when conditions are better.
  4. If a child is experiencing asthma symptoms at the start of exercise, he/she may need to use a reliever inhaler and wait until the symptoms subside. If symptoms occur during exercise, stop until they feel better

Teachers/coaches should notify you if your child is having trouble with exercise.

What is an asthma action plan?

An asthma action plan is a personalized set of instructions provided to you by your child’s health-care provider to help you manage your child’s asthma- to know what to do for worsening signs of asthma:

  1. What symptoms to watch for
  2. How to adjust the medicines according to your child’s symptoms
  3. When to call the health-care provider or call 911

For more information, you can call The Lung Association Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344 LUNG (5864), email, or visit