What to do if your child has an asthma attack

Know when your child’s having an asthma attack, what to do, and how you can help them to recover.

If your child is having an asthma attack

  1. Help them to sit up. Do not let them lie down. Try to keep them calm.
  2. Help them take one puff of their reliever inhaler (with their spacer, if they use one) every 30 to 60 seconds, up to a total of 10 puffs.
  3. If they do not have their reliever inhaler, or it’s not helping, or if you are worried at any time, call 999 for an ambulance.
  4. If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and their symptoms are not improving, repeat step 2.
  5. If their symptoms are no better after repeating step 2, and the ambulance has still not arrived, contact 999 again immediately.

Know the signs of an asthma attack

An asthma attack happens when your child’s asthma symptoms get much worse. 

This can happen quite suddenly or can build up gradually over a few days. 

If your child’s having an asthma attack, they might:

  • find it hard to breathe
  • breathe more quickly
  • be unable to talk or walk or eat
  • wheeze and cough a lot
  • complain of a tight chest or a tummy ache 
  • say their reliever inhaler is not helping, or they need it more than usual.

Your child may show other signs. Find out more about understanding your child’s symptoms.

What to do and when to get help

"An asthma attack could be a life-threatening emergency. Getting the right help when your child needs it is so important to make sure your child is treated quickly. Never think you’re wasting anyone’s time."

— Debby Waddell, Respiratory nurse specialist

Follow the asthma attack advice at the top of this page. The same advice is in your child’s asthma action plan. If your child does not have an asthma action plan yet, you can find out more and download one here.

Call 999 if your child’s reliever is not helping, or you’re worried at any time.

While you wait for an ambulance, you can help your child use their reliever inhaler again, every 30 to 60 seconds up to ten puffs. If their symptoms are not better, and the ambulance has not arrived, contact 999 again.

What to do after your child’s asthma attack

See your child’s GP or asthma nurse for an urgent follow up

Everyone who has an asthma attack should have a follow up appointment with their GP or asthma nurse. Even if your child seems better, take them to their follow-up appointment. This is important for their recovery and to lower their risk of another attack.

  • If you dealt with your child’s asthma attack at home, make an urgent same day appointment with your GP or asthma nurse. 
  • If your child’s asthma attack was treated in hospital, make an appointment to see their GP or asthma nurse within two working days.

You should talk to your child’s GP or asthma nurse about:

  • how long they need to take medicines like steroid tablets (prednisolone) for if they were given these 
  • changing your child’s regular asthma medicines if needed  
  • making sure your child is using their inhaler and spacer correctly  
  • updating your child’s asthma action plan.

If your child was treated in hospital, they should also have a follow-up appointment with a specialist asthma nurse or doctor about a month after they went into hospital.  The hospital should arrange this before your child is discharged.

Help your child take their preventer inhaler every day

Your child’s preventer inhaler stops inflammation building up in your child’s airways. This lowers their risk of symptoms and an asthma attack.    

Using their inhaler in the right way helps them get the right amount of medicine.  

You can help your child improve their technique by:

  • watching our inhaler videos with them
  • asking your child’s GP or asthma nurse to check their inhaler technique.

Use your child’s asthma action plan

Your child should have an asthma action plan. It can help you lower their risk of symptoms and an asthma attack and keep them out of hospital.

Your child’s action plan tells you:

  • what medicines they need to take every day 
  • how to recognise when their asthma is getting worse
  • what to do if they have an asthma attack.

Make sure you keep a copy of your child’s asthma action plan in a place where it can be seen easily. For example, you could keep it on the fridge or on a bulletin board in your house.

You can share copies of your child’s asthma action plan with others who care for them, including family, friends, and their school.  

If you don’t have an action plan, you can find out more and download one here. Ask your child’s GP or asthma nurse to help you fill it in.

How to help your child recover

Having an asthma attack can be very frightening. Your child may need time to recover.

Asthma nurse specialist Debby Waddell gives her expert tips below to help with your child’s recovery after an asthma attack.

Let your child rest as much as they need to

Your child may be tired after the asthma attack. This is quite common, so try not to worry.

Go back to their GP or asthma nurse if they’re being kept awake by coughing, because that’s a sign their asthma is not under control.

Help your child feel reassured and safe

Your child may be upset or frightened by what’s happened. You may notice signs like not wanting to play with friends, having problems sleeping, or, in younger children, wetting the bed.

Talk about what’s happened and about what you can do to help manage their asthma symptoms and prevent another attack.

Send them back to school when they’re ready

Sleeping, eating well, and having no asthma symptoms are all good signs your child is ready to go back to school. If you’re not sure, ask your child’s GP or asthma nurse when they think they’ll be ready.

You can talk to your child’s school about what’s happened and explain what medicines your child is on. Make sure they have a copy of your child’s asthma action plan.

Find out more about how to make sure your child is safe at school or nursery.

Doing sports and activities again

Once your child is better and managing their asthma well, they can do sports and activities again. In fact, exercise and keeping fit will help them stay well and lower their risk of another asthma attack.

Just make sure they always have their reliever inhaler with them and know to stop and tell an adult if they get symptoms.

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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