Managing asthma in children

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What’s the best way to look after your child’s asthma?

One of the best ways to look after your child’s asthma and cut their risk of an asthma attack is to make sure they’re using an up to date written asthma action plan. Your child’s asthma plan will tell you when they need to take their medicines and what to do when their asthma gets worse.

The best way to cut your child’s risk of having an asthma attack is to make sure your child:

  • has an up-to-date written asthma action plan
  • goes for an asthma review at least every six months
  • takes their asthma medicines regularly as prescribed

All children can benefit from a written asthma action plan. For children under 12, try Asthma UK’s award-winning My Asthma plan. Older children (over 12) might prefer to use our asthma action plan for adults.

Why is a written asthma action plan a good idea?

A written asthma action plan should have all the information you need in one place and helps you remember:

  • the asthma medicines your child needs to take regularly every day
  • the things that make your child’s asthma worse (their triggers)
  • the symptoms that mean your child needs their reliever inhaler (usually blue)
  • the signs and symptoms that your child needs to see their GP or asthma nurse
  • what you need to do quickly if your child has an asthma attack, including when to call 999.

Who fills in your child’s action plan?

Download a copy of the My Asthma plan (for children under 12)

Download a written asthma action plan for older children (for children over 12)

Your child’s written asthma action plan should be filled in by your GP or asthma nurse, at an appointment with you and your child. It’s important to have a plan that’s up to date so make sure you always take it with you to all your child’s asthma appointments so any changes can be made. Don’t change your child's medicines without following an agreed asthma action plan.

Because you’ve talked through the plan with your GP or asthma nurse, you’ll feel more confident about knowing when to give your child extra puffs of their reliever inhaler when they need them. This means they can quickly get back in control of their asthma again. You’ll also be clear on when you need to call 999.

Getting into a good routine

If your child’s been prescribed a preventer inhaler they need to take it every day even when they feel well. The written asthma action plan will tell you how many puffs they need to take every morning and evening. Try keeping their preventer inhaler in the bathroom so your child gets into a good routine of taking it before brushing their teeth when they get up, and again when they’re getting ready for bed.

You might feel uneasy getting your child to take medicines every day when it seems like they’re fine. But the regular preventer inhaler is the key to keeping your child well. As long as your child takes their preventer every day as prescribed they won’t react to their asthma triggers so much and they’re less likely to cough or wheeze or find it hard to breathe.

Find out more about preventer inhalers and how they protect your child.

Keep your child’s action plan handy

Keep your child’s action plan in a place where it’s easy to find because it tells you, and the rest of the family, everything you need to know to help your child stay well with their asthma. You can make copies of it so you can give one to your child’s school or anyone else who looks after them when you’re not there. Try taking a photo of the plan and keeping it on your mobile phone so you’ve always got it with you.

If your child’s old enough, give them their own copy too so they can get into a good habit of looking after their own asthma.

Make spotting symptoms fun

Asthma UK’s My Asthma pack for children under 12 comes with a fun symptom checker. The smiley face stickers will encourage your child to keep an eye on their own asthma symptoms every day.

Children tell us they love the stickers and chart - "it’s fun and looks cool on my wall". It’s useful for parents too – take the chart along to your child’s appointment as a reminder of how their asthma’s been.

This isn’t just about spotting annoying asthma symptoms – there are plenty of smiley faces to help your child see that taking their asthma medicines regularly as prescribed and taking care with their asthma triggers means they can have lots of good days too.

Using a symptom calendar or diary is a good way to get your child involved and teach them about their own asthma. In our survey, 91 per cent of parents thought the My Asthma calendar helped their child understand their asthma symptoms better. Some children might like to keep a log of their symptoms on their phone – using emoticons for good and bad days.

Take your child for an asthma review

An asthma review is a chance to talk to your GP or asthma nurse about how your child is getting on with their asthma. Even if your child is feeling well take them for a regular review so the GP or asthma nurse can check your child’s written asthma action plan and make any changes to how much asthma medicine they need – whether it’s more or less.

The British Thoracic Society (BTS) recommends that children with asthma should see their GP or asthma nurse for a full asthma review at least every six months. But if they’re having symptoms don’t wait for their six month review – book an appointment for you child when you need to. Your child’s asthma action plan will help you decide when this is necessary. 

It’s also a good idea to talk through your child’s asthma action plan and check their medicines at key times like the start of a new term or before you’re going on holiday.

At the review you can:

Read more about how to get the best from your child’s asthma review.

Know your child’s medicines

Make sure you, and anyone else looking after your child, understands what your child needs to take for their asthma and why - a preventer inhaler (or other preventer medicine) to take every day, and a reliever inhaler on hand for when they do get asthma symptoms. Use your child’s written asthma action plan to remind you.

Remember, if your child needs to use their reliever inhaler three or more times a week it’s a sign their asthma is not well controlled and you need to see your child’s GP or asthma nurse.

Watch out for allergies

Watch out for any other allergies your child may have, especially food allergies or hay fever. Almost half of all children with asthma have allergies too. Children with asthma and allergies are more at risk of symptoms leading to an asthma attack, so talk to your GP or asthma nurse about it when you’re going through your child’s written asthma action plan.

Talk to your child’s school

Your child will spend a lot of time at school so it’s important that you feel happy with how the school looks after them, and deals with any asthma symptoms. Give the school a copy of your child’s asthma action plan and make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher.

Take asthma seriously

Most children with asthma can get on with all the things they enjoy doing without symptoms getting in the way. But asthma needs to be taken seriously because if it’s not managed well it can put your child at risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

It’s very important to be prepared and know what you need to do quickly if your child has an asthma attack. Make sure your child’s written asthma action plan, which includes what you need to do in an asthma attack, and their reliever inhaler are always close to hand both at home and at school. Check that your child’s school has a spare emergency reliever inhaler in case your child forgets to take their own.

Quit smoking

If you're a smoker, or anyone else in the family smokes, your child's asthma will be harder to control and your child’s asthma medicine may not work as well. Being around tobacco smoke will make your child's asthma symptoms worse and put them at risk of an asthma attack. Get help to stop smoking. As your child gets older make sure they know the risks of smoking too.

Understand severe asthma

Around four per cent of people with asthma have severe asthma. If your child has been diagnosed with this, their asthma may be harder to manage and there may be times when they need to go to hospital. Having a child with severe asthma can be very worrying, but your child will be referred to a consultant who will prescribe the best combination of treatments and talk to you about all the things you can do to help manage their condition.

Last updated August 2015

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