Understand your child’s asthma symptoms

Know your child’s early warning signs and symptoms, what to do if they get worse, and how to track symptoms so you can quickly get the help and support your child needs.

When to call 999

If you notice your child’s finding it hard to breathe at any point, it’s an emergency. Their asthma action plan tells you what to do. Call 999 if you don’t have their blue reliever inhaler or it’s not helping.

Common asthma signs and symptoms

Your child may have one of these common signs and symptoms, or a few of them.

Any one of these signs and symptoms means you need to act to make sure their asthma doesn’t get any worse.

Your child may:

  • use their reliever inhaler (usually blue) three or more times a week
  • wheeze, cough, be short of breath and/or say their chest feels tight
  • wake at night with coughing or wheezing
  • be unable to walk as far or as fast as usual, or be breathless when they do
  • need time off nursery or school because of their asthma
  • struggle to do their normal activities or exercise
  • get a lower than usual peak flow reading - the GP or asthma nurse can tell you what peak flow score to look out for, or write it down on your child’s action plan.

Know your child’s individual asthma signs

Every child’s asthma is different - your child may also have their own individual signs and symptoms too.

They may:

  • behave differently - for example, go quiet, become very agitated, nervous or frightened, seem distracted, and be clingy
  • not be able to talk or complete sentences
  • complain of a tummy ache and/or go off their food
  • say that their ribs ache
  • seem more tired than usual
  • not want to do their usual activities, perhaps because they’re very tired
  • cry more than usual
  • find it hard to breathe, or show signs of having to make a big effort to breathe, like their shoulders heaving, or the hollow above the collarbone sinking, or their neck and stomach muscles straining
  • breathe faster, or more shallowly.

Our youngest, when he is getting worse, often gets naughty and then gets very distressed, crying non-stop, whinging and then getting wheezy.

What actions to take if asthma symptoms get worse

  1. Follow the advice on your child’s written asthma action plan
  2. Make an appointment to see your child’s GP or asthma nurse within 24 hours, or sooner if you’re worried
  3. Call 999 for an ambulance if:
    • your child is needing their blue reliever inhaler more than every four hours
    • they’ve had 10 puffs of their reliever inhaler and don’t feel any better
    • you’re worried at any point, even if your child hasn’t yet taken 10 puffs of their reliever inhaler.

“Encourage your child to tell you, or another adult, if they don’t feel well, even if they don’t have their usual asthma symptoms,” says Debby Waddell, asthma nurse specialist, “and always make sure they have their reliever inhaler ready to use if they need it.”

Tracking your child’s asthma symptoms

In most children, symptoms can build up over a few days before they have an asthma attack.

Track your child’s symptoms with a symptom diary or calendar

It helps you spot any signs that things are getting worse, so you can take action before your child has an asthma attack.

This can:

  • help your child understand their own symptoms, and when they get them, and learn how to manage their asthma well
  • alert you to any new triggers, or activities, which could be bringing on your child’s symptoms, like hay fever, exams, or stress
  • show you if your child’s signs and symptoms are changing as they get older
  • help you talk to your GP or asthma nurse about new symptoms you’ve noticed, or the symptoms your child was having before they had an asthma attack.

Order a My Asthma Calendar and stickers.

Use your child’s written asthma action plan 

It can help you feel more confident knowing the symptoms that mean your child’s asthma is getting worse, and know what to do if you notice them.

Find out how to manage your child’s asthma well, so they have fewer or no asthma 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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