Asthma in children

Advice for parents supporting their child with Asthma, as well as symptoms to help recognise asthma in children and infants.

Asthma is the most common long-term condition in children

  • One in 11 children in the UK has asthma
  • Asthma is a condition that affects airways (the small tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs)
  • Many factors (triggers)  e.g. viral infections (colds), exposure to pets, pollution, cigarette smoke, house dust mite etc. may make asthma symptoms worse
  • Treatment is very effective at controlling asthma symptoms

What are the symptoms of asthma?

The usual symptoms of asthma in children are:

  • Wheezing, or a whistling noise in the chest
  • Getting short of breath
  • Coughing, particularly at night and after exercise
  • Feeling tight in the chest, sometimes children will describe this as their chest hurting or even a tummy ache.

Asthma symptoms may not be present all the time and may come and go. With the right medicines, taken properly and as prescribed, your child should be able to lead a full life without symptoms. However, asthma is a serious condition, and if not treated properly can lead to asthma attacks, which can be life threatening.

Source: Asthma UK

Asthma triggers

Asthma symptoms and attacks are often brought on by triggers. It is therefore important that you and your child get to know what may trigger your child’s asthma symptoms. You should discuss possible triggers with your asthma nurse or doctor.  There are many different triggers, including:

  • Animals and pets
  • Colds and flu
  • Emotions
  • Exercise
  • House dust mites
  • Moulds and fungi
  • Pollen
  • Pollution
  • Smoking
  • Weather

Every child has their own triggers. It is important to write these on their personal asthma action plan so that everyone is aware of them.

Exercise is often a trigger for asthma, however, it is important that children with asthma do not avoid exercise as it has many health benefits to all children. Correct asthma treatment taken regularly and properly usually means children with asthma can enjoy the same exercise as all other children. Your nurse/doctor can give you advice about appropriate exercise and treatment and ensure this is included in your child’s asthma action plan.

Children under the age of two

If your child is under the age of two it’s difficult to tell if they have asthma because:

  • Nearly one-third of very young children will have wheezing at some point. Over time, most of them will stop wheezing as their airways grow; however for others early wheezing can be a sign they will get asthma in later childhood or adult life.
  • It isn’t easy to measure how well a young child’s lungs are working. A peak flow meter is used for older children, but is unsuitable for children under the age of six.

Yearly Asthma Reviews

It is very important that children with asthma are reviewed by their asthma nurse or doctor every year.  This provides the opportunity to discuss any of your concerns or to have any questions you or your child may have. Your asthma nurse or doctor will discuss triggers and possible avoidance strategies, symptom control, review treatments (medications and devices), check inhaler technique and update your child’s asthma management plan.

It is very helpful if you bring your current inhalers, devices and your asthma plan to the annual review.

Personal Asthma Action Plans

Asthma UK’s evidence shows that if people with asthma have an asthma action plan they are four times less likely to have an attack that requires emergency hospital treatment.  It is therefore essential that all children with asthma have an asthma action plan which is reviewed yearly, while those with severe asthma should have one more often. For more information about asthma action plans please visit Asthma UK website.

If your child has asthma but doesn’t have an asthma action plan, please contact your GP practice and ask for an appointment to see the asthma nurse to talk about an asthma action plan.  A copy of your child’s asthma action plan should also be kept at school/nursery or with anyone that cares for your child regularly as it gives important information for keeping your child well.


There are two main types of inhalers; these are preventer and relievers. Preventer inhalers (come in many colours) are taken regularly to prevent the symptoms of asthma, while reliever inhalers (mainly blue) are taken to relieve the symptoms of asthma when they occur.

Preventer inhaler

If your child is prescribed a preventer inhaler, it is essential that they take it regularly as the benefits build up over time. If it isn’t taken regularly asthma symptoms may worsen and it can increase the risk of your child having an asthma attack.

Sometimes people stop taking regular treatment because they feel well and they think their treatment is unnecessary. This makes it more likely that they will have an asthma attack and an increase in asthma symptoms such as cough or wheeze. A reduction in asthma treatment should be discussed with your nurse or doctor.

Reliever inhaler

If your child is prescribed a reliever inhaler then it is essential that they have it with them at all times.  Your child should be prescribed extra inhalers so they can have one at school/nursery or at any other regular care givers.  It is the parent’s responsibility to ensure these are in school or nursery.

It is difficult for children to use aerosol inhalers without spacers. It is advised that children use spacers with aerosol inhalers as this ensures that the medicine gets to the correct place in the lungs.

For more information on inhalers please visit Asthma UK.

Asthma care during the summer

In Leeds, we see many more children with asthma admitted to our hospitals during September than at other times of the year. This is usually because their symptoms have become worse and they need more specialist treatment. It can have a big impact on a child’s health and their attendance at school or nursery.

How to help your child

One of the best ways to prevent your child’s asthma symptoms getting worse later in the year is to make sure they continue to use their prevention medication as normal during the summer months.

This includes children who are not yet at school because they will still be likely to pick up colds and bugs from older brothers and sisters.

You can also help protect your child against increasing asthma symptoms by taking their inhaler home at the end of term, checking the expiry date, and the amount left. You might need to replace it with a new one if necessary; ready for the start of the new term in September.

By taking these two important steps, we hope fewer children will experience increased asthma symptoms and or need to be admitted to hospital for further treatment this year.

If you have any questions about asthma, talk to your local GP or paediatrician.

‘My Asthma’ resource pack

Asthma UK has developed a fun and interactive resource pack for you and your child to work through to ensure you can manage the condition more effectively. Download the resource pack as well as other useful resources from Asthma UK.

Becoming an Asthma Friendly School

If you’d like your school to achieve the Asthma Friendly School mark please download the Asthma Friendly School guidance (PDF / 82kb).