Asthma is a medical condition that affects breathing. During an asthma attack, the small airway tubes become inflamed and swollen. Because the actual air passage is now narrower, it can’t carry as much air. Asthma tends to run in families. There is no ‘cure’ for asthma but it can be managed. Asthma may improve as your child grows older. Well-controlled asthma should not prevent your child from leading a healthy, active life.


The main symptoms are shortness of breath, cough and wheeze. There are varying degrees of severity of asthma.
  • Mild: In mild asthma, a child may feel slightly short of breath, but she can still talk normally (in full sentences).She may have a cough and/or a wheeze (a whistly sound when she breathes out).
  • Moderate: In moderate asthma a child struggles to breathe. She can no longer talk in full sentences. You may notice she is using extra muscles around her chest and neck to help her breathe.
  • Severe: In severe asthma the wheeze may no longer be present as there is not enough air in the lungs to produce that sound. A child may be agitated or distressed, and struggle to talk. Urgent medical care is needed.
If asthma progresses to a critical state the child may be drowsy, exhausted and unable to talk. This is a medical emergency.


Your child will need to undergo specialised tests at the doctor for a proper diagnosis of asthma. Once diagnosed, your doctor will formulate an Asthma Action Plan. This plan lets you know how to prevent asthma, and manage an attack. You should keep one copy in an easy-to-reach place, and give another copy to your child’s school. Many people with asthma will have triggers for their asthma (things that ‘set off’ an attack). Triggers range from being sick, to exercise, medication and dust. Avoid these where possible. There are different types of medication used to manage asthma. Children who use inhaled medications should also use a device known as a spacer. This improves the amount of medication that reaches the lungs. People with regular, or severe flare-ups of asthma may need a preventative medication. These are usually inhaled medications taken daily. Some people also need a controller medication. Reliever medications manage an acute attack. If your child is having an acute asthma attack, follow your Asthma Action Plan. If you can’t locate your plan, call an ambulance if concerned. In the meantime, give 4 puffs of Ventolin (with 4 big breaths of air in between each puff). Then wait four minutes before giving another 4 puffs of Ventolin.

Reviewed by Dr Evelyn Lewin 25 February 2015 references
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    Dr Evelyn Lewin

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This document has been developed and peer reviewed by a KIDS HEALTH Advisory Board Representative and is based on expert opinion and the available published literature at the time of review. Information contained in this document is not intended to replace medical advice and any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical practitioner.

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