Asthma in children

Most children grow out of asthma by the time they reach adulthood.

Asthma is twice as common in boys as in girls.

Children with asthma usually have one or more of these things:

  • persistent coughing, particularly at night and after exercise
  • breathlessness
  • wheezing (noisy breathing).

Older children may also complain of a tight feeling in their chest.

These symptoms tend to be worse at night, in the cold, after exercise, or in the context of a cold or flu, dust, pollen or cigarette smoking.

Asthma is treated with inhalers (puffers) – known as relievers and preventers – to relax and open the airways and reduce the swelling and narrowing inside them. Preventers are usually used every day, while relievers only when a patient has symptoms, or they are going into a symptomatic environment.

Asthma attacks can often be prevented by avoiding the causes.

Early warning signs

You might notice that your child’s breathing changes and they may complain of some discomfort. Watch out for these signs, especially if others in your family have asthma.

Managing your child’s asthma

A team will help you manage your child’s asthma. This may include your doctor, practice nurse, asthma educator and pharmacist.

Asthma is treated with inhalers (puffers) – known as relievers and preventers – to relax and open the airways, and reduce the swelling and narrowing inside them.

Keeping a record of your concerns and your child’s symptoms will help your doctor decide whether your child has asthma.

Your doctor, nurse or asthma educator will help you learn how to:

  • use peak flow meters to assess your child’s breathing at home
  • use inhalers and spacers
  • keep an asthma medication and symptom diary
  • ‘asthma proof’ your home and avoid the triggers for your child’s asthma.

They’ll also help you develop a treatment plan for asthma episodes and upper respiratory infections.

Managing at school

If your child is at school, you may need to give permission to the school to enable them to administer the reliever inhaler.

Make sure your contact phone numbers are kept up to date.

Most children can manage their asthma by the age of 9 or 10 – but every child is different. 

Asthma episodes

Asthma episodes can occur quickly and vary in severity.

  • They range from mild discomfort to life-threatening episodes where breathing may stop.
  • They can last from a few minutes to hours, or even days.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

Exercise is good for children with asthma

Exercise is good for children with asthma, as long as their asthma is well managed. (Talk to your doctor or health professional about the best way to do this.)

  • You can give your child their reliever inhaler before exercise, if exercise usually triggers their asthma.
  • If your child already has asthma symptoms, it’s best for them to avoid exercise until they improve.
  • Sports with lots of stopping and starting are less likely to cause problems – eg, swimming, tennis, martial arts and most team sports.
  • Warming up before exercise is important.
  • If your child shows any sign of asthma, STOP the activity immediately and treat the symptoms.

When to see your doctor

Call your doctor or go to the Emergency Department straight away if your child has:

  • severe trouble breathing, such as rapid breathing, indrawing (sucking in) of muscles between their ribs when inhaling, and grunting when exhaling
  • blue lips or fingertips, darkened skin
  • chest, throat or neck pain
  • fever and constant coughing or wheezing that doesn’t respond to prescribed medicines
  • vomiting that won’t allow them to take oral medicine.

Also see your doctor if your child has asthma and is uneasy, drowsy, confused or lethargic (lacking energy, not wanting to do anything).

More information about asthma and children

Learn as much about asthma as you can so your child can stay fit, happy and healthy.

For more information, call the Asthma Society in your area – check your phone book for their contact details.  

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