For Kids: What Is Asthma?

Healthcare provider, woman, and boy blowing on paper horns.

If you have asthma, you know how it feels to have a “flare-up.” It’s hard to breathe. You may cough a lot, or hear a whistling sound in your chest (called wheezing). Your chest may feel tight. You may feel tired and not want to play. Why does this happen? Use a paper horn to see how your lungs work. First, blow into the horn. Air goes in and out. That’s what healthy lungs are like. Now squeeze the middle of the horn (like the healthcare provider in the picture). Air can’t get in and out. That’s like your lungs when you have an asthma flare-up.

Inside your lungs

Of course, lungs aren’t exactly like a paper horn. Inside the lungs, air goes in and out through very small tubes. These tubes are called airways. Asthma makes airways a little bit inflamed all the time. (That means swollen and red, like your nose when you have a cold.) Air can still go in and out. You may not notice a problem. But lots of things can bother inflamed airways. These things are called triggers. Triggers can cause your airways to get even more swollen. Pushing the air in and out gets harder. Less air gets into your lungs. That’s a flare-up.

Girl with open airways. Girl with narrow airways.

Color the open airways green. Color the narrow airways red.