Child respiratory disease

People with asthma have over-sensitive airways that react to triggers that don’t affect other people.

A person’s asthma triggers cause their airways to tighten, partially close up, swell inside and make more mucus.

This makes it hard for the person to breathe in – and even harder to breathe out.

If you or a family member has asthma, it’s important that you know what medicines can help control the asthma and what to do in an asthma attack.

Ask your doctor to talk to you about these things.

Causes of asthma

Asthma can be triggered by:

  • allergens
  • cold and flu symptoms
  • Weather changes, such as cold dry air.

Some medicines, physical activities, smoke, chemicals and gases can also cause asthma.

A child, who has parents or other close relatives with allergies or asthma, is more likely to develop an allergic condition, which could be asthma.

The chance is increased if both parents are affected.

Asthma in children

Most children grow out of asthma by the time they reach adulthood.

Asthma is twice as common in boys as in girls.

The common signs that a child has asthma are:

  • persistent coughing, particularly at night and after exercise – this may be the only symptom
  • breathlessness
  • wheezing (noisy breathing)
  • a tight feeling in their chest.

Asthma is sometimes caused by an allergy to something like pollen, dust, dust mites, mould spores, animal dander, feathers and cigarette smoke. Cold and flu symptoms, weather changes such as cold dry air, some medicines, physical activities, smoke, chemicals and gases can also cause asthma.

Asthma attacks can often be prevented by avoiding the causes.

Early warning signs

You might notice that your child’s breathing changes and they may complain of some discomfort. Watch out for these signs, especially if others in your family have asthma.

Managing asthma at school

If your child is at school, you may need to give permission to the school to enable them to administer the reliever inhaler.

Make sure your contact phone numbers are kept up to date.

Most children can manage their asthma by the age of 9 or 10 – but every child is different. 

Asthma episodes

Asthma episodes can occur quickly and vary in severity.

  • They range from mild discomfort to life-threatening episodes where breathing may stop.
  • They can last from a few minutes to hours, or even days.

Call Healthline 0800 611 116 if you are unsure what you should do.

Exercise is good for children with asthma

Exercise is good for children with asthma, as long as their asthma is well managed. (Talk to your doctor or health professional about the best way to do this.)

  • You can give your child their reliever inhaler before exercise, if exercise usually triggers their asthma.
  • If your child already has asthma symptoms, it’s best for them to avoid exercise until they improve.
  • Sports with lots of stopping and starting are less likely to cause problems – eg, swimming, tennis, martial arts and most team sports.
  • Warming up before exercise is important.

If your child shows any sign of asthma, STOP the activity immediately and treat the symptoms.

When to see your doctor

Call your doctor or go to the Emergency Department straight away if your child has:

  • severe trouble breathing, such as rapid breathing, indrawing (sucking in) of muscles between their ribs when inhaling, and grunting when exhaling
  • blue lips or fingertips, darkened skin
  • chest, throat or neck pain
  • fever and constant coughing or wheezing that doesn’t respond to prescribed medicines
  • Vomiting that won’t allow them to take oral medicine.

Also see your doctor if your child has asthma and is uneasy, drowsy, confused or lethargic (lacking energy, not wanting to do anything).

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