Asthma in children 


Asthma: an animation

Asthma is a chronic condition affecting the lungs which can be managed but not cured. This animation explains in detail what happens when someone has asthma.

Media last reviewed: 22/11/2013

Next review due: 02/11/2015

Asthma attack: what you need to do

What to do in an asthma attack, including how to spot the warning signs and having a personal action plan

Asthma is a common long-term condition that can be effectively controlled in most children. The severity of asthma symptoms varies between children, from mild to severe.

In the UK, over 1.1 million children have asthma. 

What is asthma?

Asthma affects the airways, the small tubes known as the bronchi, that carry air in and out of the lungs. If your child has asthma, the airways of their lungs are more sensitive than normal.

When your child comes into contact with something that irritates their lungs, known as a trigger (see below), their airways narrow, the lining becomes inflamed, the muscles around them tighten, and there is an increase in the production of sticky mucus or phlegm.

This makes it difficult to breathe and causes symptoms such as:

  • wheezing
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest

Asthma attack

A sudden, severe onset of symptoms is known as an asthma attack, or an acute asthma exacerbation. Asthma attacks can sometimes be managed at home but may require hospital treatment. They are occasionally life threatening.

Read more about the symptoms of asthma in children.

Causes of asthma

The exact cause of asthma is not yet fully understood. Asthma often runs in families and a child is more likely to have asthma if one or both parents have the condition.

There are also a range of asthma triggers, although everyone’s asthma is different and people may have several triggers.

An upper respiratory tract infection, such as a cold or flu is the most common trigger of an asthma attack. Other common triggers include:

  • exercise, especially in cold weather
  • an allergy to and contact with house dust mites, animal fur, grass and tree pollen
  • exposure to air pollution, especially tobacco smoke

Read more about the causes of asthma in children.

Asthma is more common in young boys than young girls. However, this changes as children get older and, after puberty, asthma is more common in girls.

During teenage years, the symptoms of asthma may disappear. However, asthma can return in adulthood.

It can be difficult to diagnose asthma in children as many other conditions can cause similar symptoms.

Read more about how asthma is diagnosed in children.

Treating asthma in children

While there is no cure for asthma, there are effective treatments that can help control the condition. Treatment is based on two important goals:

  • relieving symptoms 
  • preventing future symptoms and attacks from developing

Treatment involves a combination of medicines, a personal asthma action plan and avoiding potential asthma triggers.

Read more about how asthma in children is treated.

It is important for your child to continue using their prescribed medication, with regular reviews. This will help to keep asthma symptoms under control as your child gets older.

There are also several lifestyle changes that may help you and your child to manage their asthma. With support from schools, there is no reason why a child with asthma cannot take a full part in education and exercise.

Read more about living with asthma.

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2012

Next review due: 12/09/2014


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

kerryhull80 said on 01 October 2012

My son had an acute asthma attack at the age of two but has never shown signs of asthma before this, he was suffering with a cold at the time.After a week in hospital he was fine till a couple of months before his 5th Birthday and he had another acute Asthma attack and spent another week in hospital he still hasn't been diagnosed with asthma and even though I was asking the questions "why these attacks are happening?" "Is he asthmatic?" I never got any real answers so I've just got to wait to see if it ever happens again which is scary when it happens. ANDY2012 your sons mother should know not to be smoking in front of your son especially if he is asthmatic I'm a smoker but my house is smoke free I smoke outside not only do your children breath it in your house smells of smoke good on you for telling her

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Andy2012 said on 09 February 2012

My son lives with his mother and partner. My son has asthma but they will not stop smoking around him. when i mention it to them they get very defensive and deny it, yet his clothes smell of smoke.

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