The common symptoms of asthma include:
- feeling breathless
- wheezing (there may be a whistling sound when your child breathes)
- coughing, particularly at night
- tightness in the chest
Symptoms vary between people and children may have one or more of these symptoms. If symptoms become worse during the night or with exercise, your child's asthma may not be well controlled. Take your child to see their doctor or asthma nurse.
When asthma gets worse
When symptoms of asthma get significantly worse, this may be the start of an asthma attack. The symptoms of a severe asthma attack sometimes develop slowly, taking 6-48 hours to become serious. For some people, asthma can get worse very quickly.
When to contact your GP
If you notice your child's symptoms are getting worse, do not ignore them. Contact your GP or asthma clinic. Signs of worsening asthma in your child may include:
- an increase in symptoms, such as your child becoming more wheezy, tight chested or breathless
- the reliever inhaler (usually blue) not helping as much as usual
- a drop in peak expiratory flow rate (see the Asthma in children - diagnosis for more information).
When to go to hospital
Call 999 for an ambulance if your child has symptoms of a severe asthma attack. Symptoms of a severe asthma attack include:
- the reliever inhaler does not help symptoms at all
- the symptoms (wheezing, coughing, tight chest) will be severe and constant
- breathing very fast and too breathless to complete a sentence in one breath or too breathless to talk or feed
- a racing pulse
- feeling agitated or restless
- lips or finger nails may look blue
You may be advised to give extra doses of the reliever inhaler while you are waiting for the ambulance
Treating asthma in children
The aim of treatment is to get your child's asthma under control and keep it that way. Asthma treatments are effective in most children and should allow them to be free from symptoms and lead a normal life.
Your doctor or nurse will tailor your child's asthma treatment according to their symptoms. Sometimes, your child may need to be on higher levels of medication than at other times.
You and your child should be offered:
- care at your GP surgery from doctors and nurses trained in asthma management
- advice about the risks to you and your children with asthma if you smoke, as well as support to stop smoking
- vaccinations to reduce respiratory infections, such as flu
- a written personal asthma action plan agreed with your child's doctor or nurse
Personal asthma action plan
As part of the initial assessment, you and your child should be encouraged to draw up a personal asthma action plan with your GP or asthma nurse. The plan includes information about your child's asthma medicines. If your child has been admitted to hospital because of an asthma attack, you should be offered a written action plan (or the opportunity to review an existing action plan) before you go home.
As your child gets older, it is important for them to be able to recognise the signs and symptoms of their asthma, and how to effectively manage their condition. Both you and your child should be shown how to recognise when their symptoms are getting worse and the appropriate steps to take. You should also be given information about what to do if they have an asthma attack.
You and your child should review their personal asthma action plan with their GP or asthma nurse at least once a year, more frequently if their symptoms are severe or not well controlled.
As part of their asthma management, your child may be given a diary card and sometimes a peak flow meter to monitor their symptoms and the effects of treatment.
Adapted from NHS Choices: Asthma in children - Treatment - NHS Choices Asthma in children - Symptoms - NHS Choices Asthma in children - NHS Choices Asthma - Treatment - NHS Choices Asthma - NHS Choices
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