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Dr Anna Maw
Consultant pediatrician at Cambridge University NHS Trust in the UK. A child doctor specializing in brain development and neurology. She has three children.
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Child Care & Health

Asthma in children

Asthma is a condition that affects the airways in the lungs by making them swollen (inflamed) and narrow. This can cause coughing, wheezing (a high pitched whistling sound) and breathing difficulty. Someone with asthma will be sensitive to certain triggers. Discovering your child's triggers can take a bit of detective work but common triggers include cigarette smoke, pollen, cold air, furry pets, exercise, colds or chest infections.
In Short
When someone with asthma comes into contact with a trigger, the muscles in the airways tighten, the airway swells and produces sticky phlegm (mucus).

This results in wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulty.

How is it treated?

Inhalers, sometimes tablets, are usually prescribed to help manage the symptoms. There are many different types of inhalers available and the one prescribed for your child will depend on their age, ability to use a certain device and the severity of their symptoms.

Relievers (blue-salbutamol/ Ventolin)

These should be taken only when needed, such as during colds, when coughing, wheezing or having difficulty breathing.

They help to open the airways and help your child to breathe.

Sometimes, after an asthma attack, you may be told by your doctor to give your child the reliever inhaler regularly and wean down gradually.

Preventer treatments

These need to be taken everyday – even when your child is well.

Inhalers – (brown-beclometasone or orange-flixotide)

These are steroid inhalers that help control the inflammation in your child’s airways and help to prevent further asthma attacks.

Preventer granules or chewable tablet (montelukast, singulair)

These also help to control the inflammation in your child’s airways but they are not steroids.

Using spacers and relievers

All children susceptible to asthma should have a spacer device and reliever inhaler to use during an asthma attack.

At every asthma visit or review, your doctor or nurse will check you are happy using your inhaler, so take it with you to every appointment.

A spacer will help deliver the inhaler medicine deep into your child’s airways.

Each puff of the inhaler must go into the spacer separately and breathe in and out at least 6 times for each puff.

How to manage an asthma attack?

If your child has a cough, cold or wheeze, their chest feels tight or they feel out of breath.

Give the blue inhaler through the spacer – 2-6 puffs up to 4 hourly.

If your child needs their blue inhaler every 4 hours, is coughing all the time or feels too wheezy or breathless to play ot eat, then give an extra 2 puffs of the blue inhaler every 2 minutes until they feel better – up to a maximum of 10 puffs.

If they have improved after the extra 10 puffs, make an urgent GP appointment for a review or call 111.

If they have not improved after 10 puffs, call 999 for an ambulance. State clearly your child is in the middle of a severe asthma attack and is not pulling out of it and this is urgent. Carry on giving the blue inhaler until the paramedics arrive.

Personal asthma action plan

It is important that everybody with asthma has a written action plan.

This covers what medicine your child usually needs to take for their asthma and what needs to be taken if they have an asthma attack.

Your GP or asthma nurse can provide you with this.

It’s a good idea to make copies for school, playdates and so on.

Source – all the information above is from the Children’s asthma clinic at St Thomas’ hospital in London.

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.