By: Sheila Razdan, MD, MPH
You may have been given an asthma action plan for your child after a doctor's office visit, a trip to the emergency department, or after your child was hospitalized. Ideally, everyone with asthma should have one.
An asthma action plan is designed to help families manage a child's asthma. The goal is to prevent asthma emergencies by preventing and controlling flare-ups.
Because asthma affects people differently, asthma action plans are personalized for your child. While every asthma action plan looks a little bit different, they all include the same major parts.
Generally, asthma action plans include a list of the medications taken, early warning signs for asthma symptoms, and instructions on when to use the medicines and call your health care provider.
The asthma action plan format
Your child's asthma action plan will be divided into a traffic light format:
Green means go! This is your child's everyday plan.
Yellow means proceed with caution - this is for when your child isn't feeling quite right. Still follow everything in the green zone, but add on other options.
Red zone means danger! This is urgent, when your child needs medications quickly and fast medical attention to prevent symptoms from getting even worse.
Contact information: Every Asthma Action Plan should have information about your child, including name and family contact information. It should also have the name and phone number for the doctor who takes care of your child's asthma, whether it's your pediatrician or a lung doctor.
Peak Flow: Depending on your child's age, there may be a number written on the top of your asthma action plan. This number measures how hard your child can breathe out when feeling healthy on a peak flow machine. It is a good way to see if your child's breathing effort is normal.
This red zone is for when your child is sick and their asthma flare is dangerous: medicine is not helping, you notice your child is breathing hard and/or fast, you can see your child's ribs while they are breathing, your child's nose is opening wider when they breathe (called “nasal flaring"), or your child cannot talk because they are having a hard time breathing. The peak flow range listed will be low.
Call your doctor immediately! If it is after the office is closed, go to the
emergency department or
call 911 if you cannot take your child there yourself.
You should also give all the Green Zone medications AND whatever rescue medications are in your Red Zone. Your asthma action plan will also include how much of the medicine to take and how often. It may be a higher dose of the Yellow Zone medication that you also give more frequently.
If you have any questions about the asthma action plan, or you do not have one but think your child could benefit, please talk with your child's pediatrician.
About Dr. Razdan
Sheila Razdan, MD, MPH, Chief Resident in Pediatrics at St. Louis Children's Hospital, is a member of the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Follow her at