Asthma in children

Treating and controlling asthma in children

At the moment, there’s no cure for asthma. But the symptoms can usually be controlled easily. This page has information on managing your child’s asthma using preventer and reliever inhalers.

If you think your child is having an asthma attack

Act quickly. Don’t hesitate to call 999 for help if you need it.

  • Get them to sit up straight
  • Give them their reliever inhaler. They might normally only take 2 puffs, but if you think they’re having an attack, it’s OK to give them up to 10 puffs. You should space these out – 1 puff at a time every 30-60 seconds
  • If they don’t have a reliever inhaler, or if their symptoms don’t improve after taking it, call an ambulance
  • If the ambulance is taking longer than 15 minutes to arrive, you can give them their reliever inhaler again in the same way as before.
  • If you need to go to A&E or stay in hospital, take their written asthma action plan with you. See your GP or practice asthma nurse for a review within two days of being discharged.

Will my child need to go to hospital?

When to call 999

On this page:


Asthma medication: preventers and relievers

The two most common types of asthma medication are preventers and relievers. The medications most commonly given to children are normally taken through an inhaler and a spacer.

Preventers

How do they help?

Preventers help by controlling the inflammation in your child’s airways. They usually contain medication called inhaled steroids which are similar to the steroids our bodies produce to regulate inflammation.

When should my child take them?

Your health care professional will tell you how your child should take their preventer medication and write this in their action plan. Preventer inhalers should be taken regularly, usually every morning and evening. It’s a good idea to build this into your child’s daily routine. They need to take their preventer medication even when they’re not experiencing symptoms.

Relievers

How do they help?

Relievers contain medication that relaxes the muscles around the airways making it easier for air to get into and out of the lungs.

When should my child take them?

Your child should take their reliever medication when they start getting asthma symptoms. They should start to feel better straight away. If exercise triggers your child’s symptoms, they may also be advised to also take reliever medication before vigorous activity. Take advice from your GP or asthma nurse.


Taking the medication: inhalers and spacers

The most common way to take asthma medication is through an inhaler. Inhalers turn the medication into a fine mist that is breathed into the lungs. This gets the medication straight to where it’s needed and helps to reduce side effects.

Most children, particularly younger children, will be prescribed an aerosol inhaler (asthma pump). They will need to use a spacer with their inhaler.  A spacer makes the inhaler easier to use and helps to increase the amount of medicine reaching your child’s lungs. Older children might be able use breath-activated or dry powder inhalers which do not need a spacer.

Make sure you understand how your child should use their inhaler and spacer. Ask a doctor or nurse to show you if you’re not sure or take a look at these videos:

How to use a spacer without a mask for a child

How to use a spacer with a mask for a baby or child

The Asthma UK website has more videos on using different types of inhaler properly.

It’s important to clean your child’s inhaler and spacer regularly. If you’re not sure how to clean your inhaler and spacer, check the instructions that come in the box, or ask your nurse.


Personal asthma action plan

Your doctor or nurse should give you a personal asthma action plan for your child. This is a written summary of how to manage your child’s asthma including

  • which medicine to take
  • how often
  • how to monitor their symptoms and avoid triggers
  • when to get a review and
  • what to do in an emergency
  • Make sure you keep it up to date.

Asthma UK has downloadable action plans for children under 12, and for young people and adults 12 years and older.

The British Lung Foundation is campaigning for everyone with a lung disease to have a personalised care and support plan. Find out how we’re helping patients and families keep track of their care.

Next: will my child need to go to hospital? >

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Last medically reviewed: September 2019. Due for review: September 2022

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.