Asthma in children 

Living with asthma 

Your child’s asthma may be better or worse at different times. Here are some things you and your child can do to help keep their asthma under control.

Learn to manage asthma

As your child grows up, they should be encouraged to manage their asthma. They can do this gradually with support from their doctor, asthma nurse, and others involved in their care. It is important for them to learn about asthma medicines and how to recognise the symptoms of an asthma attack. Knowing how to look after themselves can increase your child’s quality of life and allow them to be more active and independent.

Continue with medication

It is important your child takes their medication as prescribed, even if they start to feel better. Continuous medication can help prevent asthma attacks and the benefit builds up over months and even years. If you have any questions or concerns about the medication or any side effects, talk to your child’s doctor or asthma nurse.

Regular reviews

Because asthma is a long-term condition, you will be in contact with your child’s healthcare team regularly. A good relationship with the team means you can easily discuss your child's symptoms or any concerns you have. The more the team knows, the more they can help.

Keeping well

Some children with asthma are encouraged to get a yearly flu jab each autumn to protect against flu (influenza). They are also recommended to get an anti-pneumococcal vaccination. This is a one-off injection that protects against a serious chest infection called pneumococcal pneumonia.

Stop smoking

If you are a smoker, never smoke around your children. Smoking around children will make the severity and frequency of their asthma symptoms worse. Research has shown that you are up to four times more likely to quit smoking if you use NHS support along with stop-smoking medicines, such as patches or gum. Ask your doctor for advice or go to the NHS smokefree website.

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Daily life hide

With the right treatment and management, asthma should not restrict your child’s life.

Sleeping

Symptoms at night are an indication that asthma is poorly controlled. Your child might wake up some nights coughing or with a tight chest. Poor sleep can affect your child’s behaviour and concentration, as well as their ability to learn.

Achieving good control of asthma using the treatment your GP recommends will reduce symptoms, which means your child should sleep better.

Exercise

Children and young people should do at least 60 minutes (one hour) of aerobic activity every day, which should include a mix of moderate-intensity (such as fast walking) and vigorous-intensity (for example running) activities. Children generally want to be active, so if they are reluctant to exercise it may be an indication their asthma is not fully controlled.

If your child has asthma symptoms during or after exercise, speak to their doctor or asthma nurse. It is likely they will review your child's general symptoms and personal asthma plan to make sure their asthma is under control.

The doctor or asthma nurse may also tell your child to:

  • Use a reliever inhaler (usually blue) 10-15 minutes before they exercise and again after two hours of non-stop exercise or when they finish.
  • Start with warm-up exercises. 
  • Try to structure their exercise plan around short-burst activities.
  • Exercise in humid environments. 
  • Breathe through their nose if possible to avoid excessively rapid and deep breathing (hyperventilation).
  • Cool down correctly once exercise is finished.

Keeping well

Some medical conditions, such as rhinitis and sinusitis, are known to aggravate asthma. In children with asthma and allergic rhinitis, treating the allergic rhinitis as well as the asthma can help bring the asthma under control.

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Know their triggers show

It is important, where possible, to identify the triggers of your child's asthma by making a note of when symptoms get worse and, sometimes, using their peak flow meter during exposures to certain situations. Some triggers, such as air pollution, viral illness or certain weather conditions, can be hard to avoid. Other triggers, such as dust mites, fungus spores or pet fur, can sometimes be avoided.

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Education show

Most children with well-controlled asthma can learn and participate in their school’s activities completely unaffected by their condition. However, it is important to tell the school if your child has asthma and to make sure that they have information about your child’s asthma medicines.

You will need to supply the school with a reliever inhaler for your child to use if they experience symptoms during the school day.

Staff at the school should be able to recognise worsening asthma symptoms and know what to do in the event of an attack, particularly staff supervising sport or physical education.

Your child’s school should have an asthma policy in place, which you can ask to see.

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Complications of asthma show

Quality of life

Poorly controlled asthma can have an adverse impact on your child's quality of life. The condition can lead to:

  • fatigue
  • underperformance or absence from school
  • psychological problems, including stress, anxiety and depression

Children may also feel excluded from their school friends if they cannot take part in games, sports and social activities.

If you feel your child's asthma is seriously affecting their quality of life, contact your GP or asthma clinic. Your child's personal asthma action plan may need to be reviewed.

Death

Asthma is the most common long-term condition in children and it can be life threatening. In the UK in 2009, 12 children under the age of 14 died from asthma. Your child’s personal asthma action plan will help you and them recognise symptoms of an asthma attack, what to do and when to seek medical attention.

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Get in touch with others show

You may find it helpful to talk about your experience of your child’s asthma with other people in a similar position. Asthma UK provides a forum for parents and carers to discuss their experiences.

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Page last reviewed: 12/09/2012

Next review due: 12/09/2014

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