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Understanding Childhood Asthma: Symptoms, Causes and Effective Management

Updated: 2 days ago

Asthma is common among children affecting around 1 in 4 children during childhood. The good news is that, while there is no cure for asthma, it is a treatable condition.

It’s essential to know how to recognise an asthma episode or asthma symptoms, what medications to give and when to give them and that your asthma action plan is there to help you and others looking after your child.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that impacts the airways in the lungs. The main characteristic of asthma is the narrowing of the small air passages in the lungs, which can cause a range of symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for diagnosing asthma. Instead, healthcare providers typically rely on a child's breathing pattern and other asthma-related symptoms to make a diagnosis.

Asthma symptoms in children

Typical signs and symptoms of childhood asthma may include:

  • Difficulty breathing or catching breath

  • Wheezing

  • Coughing

Severe asthma symptoms

Severe asthma symptoms are those that require urgent medical attention. Your child may experience symptoms including:

  • Becoming blue around the lips.

  • Exhausted or 'floppy.'

  • Gasping for air.

Asthma wheezing

Wheezing is very common in the first few years of life, but not all children with wheezing will go on to develop asthma. While the causes of wheezing can be different, the treatment is often the same. Other names you might hear asthma or wheeze called are:

  • Viral induced wheeze

  • Preschool wheeze

  • Childhood asthma or

  • Ventolin responsive wheeze.

Asthma Triggers

Asthma triggers can exacerbate or worsen asthma symptoms in individuals with the condition. Triggers can vary from person to person, and identifying specific triggers is beneficial to prevent your child's asthma episodes. So, what triggers childhood asthma? Triggers can include:

  • Cold or viral infection

  • Exercise

  • Change in weather/windy conditions

  • Air pollution/smoke

  • Pollens, house dust mites, pets

  • Cigarette smoke.

Asthma treatments for children

Asthma can be effectively managed with medication, which generally includes relievers and preventers. These medications are commonly administered through the use of inhalers or puffers. With proper treatment, individuals with asthma can experience significant relief from their symptoms and better control over their condition.

Asthma reliever medication

Asthma reliever medications quickly open the airways and make breathing easier, often providing relief within minutes of administration. The most commonly prescribed reliever medication is salbutamol (Ventolin), often recognised by its distinctive blue puffer.

Asthma preventer medication

Asthma preventer medications are designed to reduce the inflammation and swelling in the airways, thereby preventing asthma episodes from occurring. To ensure their effectiveness, these medications must be prescribed by a doctor and taken daily. They are available in two forms: inhalers and tablets. Commonly inhaled preventers include fluticasone (Flixotide) and budesonide (Pulmicort), while tablet form preventers include Montelukast (Singulair).

How to administer asthma medication

When administering asthma medication to children, it is essential to use a spacer, which helps more of the medication reach the lungs where needed. For children under the age of four, a spacer and mask should be used with the puffer, while children over the age of four can use a spacer alone. We recommend watching this short video from The Royal Children's Hospital (of your child’s age group) to ensure proper administration.

Asthma Action Plan (AAP)

When a child is diagnosed with asthma, creating a personalised Asthma Action Plan (AAP) is essential. This plan serves as a guide for parents or caregivers in case the child experiences an asthma episode. To ensure easy access, the AAP should be kept in a visible and easily accessible location, such as on the fridge. It is also crucial for all caregivers and individuals responsible for the child's well-being to clearly understand the child's asthma and follow the AAP instructions.

Asthma first aid

During an asthma attack, remaining calm and attentive to the child is crucial. Follow these first-aid steps for relief:

  1. First, ensure the child is sitting upright and never leave them unattended.

  2. Shake the puffer, and put one puff into the spacer.

  3. The child should take four breaths from the spacer before repeating the process for four puffs.

  4. Remember to shake the puffer before each puff and wait four minutes before assessing any improvement.

  5. If no improvement is observed, continue to administer four separate puffs while being guided by emergency assistance until the ambulance arrives.

Severe asthma episode

If your child is experiencing a severe asthma episode, call 000 and follow asthma first aid or 4 by 4 by 4 using reliever medication.


PODCAST Cough, croup and wheeze

Please remember to seek help any time you feel you need to.

Stay well,

Dr Lexi


Disclaimer: The information in this article is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute advice provided by your doctor or other healthcare professionals. The author of this information has made a considerable effort to ensure the information is in-line with current guidelines, codes and accepted clinical evidence at time of writing, is up-to-date at time of publication and relevant to Australian readers. The opinions and thoughts expressed in this article reflects the view of the author only and not the broader medical profession or her places of work. The author accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in this information.  We recommend you always consult a qualified health practitioner for individualised advice.

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Mother giving child asthma medication | Parents You've Got This


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