How to Handle an Asthma Attack

Follow our simple tips for the best ways to handle your child's asthma attack.

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Illustration by John Ritter

Watching a child gasp for air can be terrifying. Take a deep breath yourself, then jump to action with these lifesaving steps.

Ask about meds. If he has an inhaler, help him locate and use it.

Keep the child upright. Lying down makes breathing more difficult.

Move away from allergens. Try to get some distance from irritants like cigarette smoke, a dog or a mulchy area that may harbor mold.

Call 911. Get help immediately if an inhaler isn't available or he continues to struggle for breath, his lips are turning blue or he is unable to talk.

Keep him calm. Offer soothing reassurances, such as: "You're going to be okay," "We're getting help," and "Don't worry, I'm right here with you."

Coming Soon: An Asthma-Free Future

A decade ago, a new class of prescription medications called monoclonal antibodies promised to revolutionize the treatment of severe, hard-to-control asthma brought on by airborne allergens. Xolair is currently the only medication of its kind on the market. However, recent clinical trials of similar drugs have shown success, and new medicines may be available as early as 2015. "These drugs change a part of the immune system that reacts to allergens. Once that threat is removed, an asthma attack is unlikely to occur," explains Jacqueline Eghrari-Sabet, M.D., medical director of Family Allergy and Asthma Care in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Xolair is available as a monthly or twice-monthly injection for people age 12 and older. "The drugs currently under development target other parts of the immune system that are affected by different allergens," says Dr. Eghrari-Sabet. Studies show that monoclonal antibody therapy can reduce the number of allergy-induced asthma attacks by a third and may also allow decreasing the amount of medications needed to manage asthma.

If your child isn't a candidate for Xolair, search for clinical trials for new drugs open to people age 12 and older. To find a study, visit clinicaltrials.gov and type in "asthma and monoclonal antibodies." Now is also a good time to schedule allergy testing in case there are new therapies in the pipeline that could be an option for your child once they become available.

Originally published in the August 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.