Watching a child struggle to breathe is one of the most heart-breaking experiences. Unfortunately, too many Philadelphia families, teachers and doctors have to endure this pain due to the debilitating effects of childhood asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that causes the airways to be inflamed, leaving less room for air to move through the lungs. This can cause trouble breathing and attacks of coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. Asthma leads to mucus in the lungs.

An asthma attack involves squeezing of the muscle bands around the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Left untreated, asthma attacks are dangerous and can lead to death. While asthma cannot be cured, it can be managed with medication prescribed by your child’s doctor, eliminating asthma triggers at home, and following your child’s Asthma Action Plan.

Every child has their own set of asthma symptoms before an asthma attack.

Child with asthma inhaler
Air pollution around cars on a highway.

Why is there so much asthma in the Philadelphia region?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5.8% of children in the U.S. have asthma. This rate is more than triple for Philadelphia children, with an asthma prevalence rate of 21%. In 2020, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic children had over 4 times more asthma related hospitalizations in Philadelphia compared to non-Hispanic White children.

Asthma disparities may be explained by a combination of genetics and social determinants of health which include where children live, grow, learn and play. Indoor and outdoor air pollution both contribute to the high prevalence of asthma in the Philadelphia Region. Climate Change is expected to increase air pollution which can worsen asthma. Higher temperatures also increase the risk of mold, a common asthma trigger.

You can sign up for alerts on the air quality in your area by visiting to see when it is best to avoid playing outside during days with higher levels of air pollution in the air.

What can I do to protect my child?

If you suspect asthma, your first step will be to take your child to the doctor. They may make an asthma diagnosis and develop your child’s Asthma Action Plan . Make sure your child is taking their medication correctly as prescribed by their doctor.

Additionally, avoiding asthma triggers can prevent future asthma attacks. An asthma trigger is anything that can start an asthma attack. Each child will have different triggers.

Video Resources

Child playing with cat under a dining room table.

Common asthma triggers:

  • Dust mites: They mostly live in bedding and can make asthma worse. Your child may be exposed to dust mites from carpets, mattresses, pillows, stuffed toys, bedcovers and upholstered furniture.
  • Smoke
  • Animals with fur or feathers
  • Pests like cockroaches and rodents
  • Physical activity
  • Pollen
  • Weather changes
  • Colds and viruses
  • Strong smells and fragrances, particularly in sprays
  • Mold
  • Laughing hard, crying or yelling

Ways to reduce exposure to asthma triggers

Find out how you can make a difference in your child's health with these quick tips. Click the circle icons to view each tip.

Graphic art of a house with multiple rooms, basement and garage

Never smoke in your home or areas where your child will be. The chemicals from smoke settle on surfaces and can trigger an asthma attack.

If you smoke, only smoke outside the home. Secondhand, and even thirdhand smoke (chemicals and nicotine that settle on surfaces), can trigger an asthma attack.

Wash bedding and fabric toys once a week in hot water

Use a HEPA vacuum to clean your carpets at least once a week.

Regularly mop floors and wipe surfaces with a damp cloth.

Avoid using cleaning products that have a strong smell. See this website for alternatives.

Fix any leaks and keep food in tightly sealed containers to discourage pests.

Urine, feces, saliva, hair and body parts from roaches and rodents are known asthma triggers. If you have pests, never use foggers or bug bombs. Use asthma friendly methods in getting rid of pests such as integrated pest managementClick on this link to learn more about safer ways to mitigate pests in your home.

Use a hypoallergenic mattress and pillow cover to protect your child from dust mites while sleeping.

Keep pets out of your child’s bedroom.

Avoid clutter as this can provide hiding places for pests. Minimize stuffed animals and carpet in bedrooms.

Sign up for daily air quality alerts at and don’t allow your child to play outside on poor air quality days.

If your child is allergic to pollen, check the pollen count in your area by visiting this website.

If physical activity is a trigger, ask the doctor if your child should take asthma medicine before playing.

Our Asthma Programs

Mother giving a child an inhaler.

Chester Community Asthma Prevention Program

The CAPP program provides direct intervention for families to reduce childhood asthma in Chester, PA.

Teachers in a classroom for training

Teachers Institute of Philadelphia Environmental Health Curriculum

Teacher training to develop curriculum on environmental health topics.

Tired child being observed by two doctors.

Regional Consultations on Environmental Health

Consultations for clinicians caring for patients with lead poisoning and environmental health issues

Toddler playing in a sandbox.

Pilot Project Funding

Funding for researchers and nonprofit organizations for innovative children’s environmental health research and implementing that research in the community.

Toddler playing with toys at a daycare center.

Webinars for Childcare Providers

Videos specifically for childcare centers and schools on environmental health topics.

Doctor using stethoscope while mother holds child.

Prescriptions for Prevention Program

This program screens patients for environmental risks and automatically provides them and their healthcare providers with printed counseling materials.

Center Members Researching Asthma

Anneclaire De Roos, PhD, MPH
Drexel University

Anneclaire De Roos, PhD, MPH

Anneclaire De Roos is an environmental epidemiologist with extensive experience studying chemical, physical, and biological exposures as risk…

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Dr. Hyunok Choi
Lehigh University

Hyunok Choi, PhD, MPH

Hyunok Choi is the Associate Professor and Director of the Children’s Environmental Precision Health Institute at Lehigh University….

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Dr. Blanca Himes
University of Pennsylvania

Blanca Himes, PhD

Blanca Himes is the Associate Professor in the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Informatics and received tenure as…

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Dr. Jessica Rice
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Jessica Rice, DO, MHS

Jessica Rice is an attending physician with the Division of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine at the Children’s Hospital…

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Dr. Marilyn Howarth
University of Pennsylvania

Marilyn V. Howarth, MD, FACOEM

Marilyn Howarth is the Deputy Director of the Philadelphia Regional Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Within the Center,…

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Dr. Tyra Bryant-Stephens
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Tyra Bryant-Stephens, MD

Tyra Bryant-Stephens is a board-certified pediatrician in clinical primary care practice for over 30 years and Associate Professor…

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Dr. Courtney Wolk
University of Pennsylvania

Courtney Benjamin Wolk, PhD

Courtney Benjamin Wolk is a Co-Investigator of the Philadelphia Regional Center for Children’s Environmental Health. Courtney is a…

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Dr. Sharon McGrath-Morrow
Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania

Sharon McGrath-Morrow, MBA, MD

Sharon McGrath-Morrow is the Associate Division Chief in Pulmonary and Sleep at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Co-Principal…

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