If your child has an asthma attack

Do you need to call 999 for an ambulance? This page will give you the information you need.

It can be very frightening to see your child having asthma symptoms. And sometimes it can be hard to judge whether to call an ambulance, or treat them at home and make an urgent same-day appointment with their GP or asthma nurse.

But if your child’s having an asthma attack, recognising the signs and taking action quickly could save their life.

You can spot the signs

Every 10 seconds, someone in the UK has an asthma attack. Getting treatment urgently could save your child's life, so it’s important for you and anyone else who looks after your child to recognise when they are having an asthma attack.

Signs that your child is having an asthma attack:

  • Their reliever inhaler (usually blue) isn’t helping or they need it more than every four hours, or
  • They can’t talk or walk easily, or
  • They’re finding it hard to breathe, or
  • They’re coughing or wheezing a lot, or
  • Their chest is tight or hurts, or
  • Their peak flow is less than what it says on their asthma action plan.

5 simple steps to take now

These steps could save your child’s life so make sure you know them – and share them with other people who look after your child.

  1. Call for help
  2. Help them to sit up – don’t let them lie down. Try to be calm
  3. Help them take a puff of their reliever inhaler (usually blue), with their spacer, if they have it every 30 to 60 seconds up to a total of 10 puffs
  4. If they don’t have their blue inhaler, it’s not helping or if you are worried at any time, call 999 straightaway
  5. While you wait for an ambulance, your child can use their blue reliever again, every 30 to 60 seconds (up to 10 puffs) if they need to.

If your child goes to A&E, remember to take their written asthma plan with you – either as a photo on your phone or a paper copy.

If you don’t need to call 999 because your child’s asthma symptoms improved after they used their blue inhaler, you need to make an urgent same-day appointment with their GP or asthma nurse.

Remember: you’re not wasting anyone’s time

Not sure whether your child really needs emergency help? It’s always better to be safe, so don’t risk having to look back and wish you’d got urgent treatment for your child. Asthma UK helpline nurse specialist, Caroline says: “Getting the right help when you need it is not a waste of time – an asthma attack is a real emergency that can be life-threatening if it isn’t treated quickly and properly. You’re not a nuisance or bothering anyone.”

If your child hasn’t had an asthma attack, but their symptoms are getting worse

This could be a warning sign they may have an asthma attack soon. Asthma attacks don’t usually happen out of the blue. For around 80% of people, asthma symptoms get gradually worse for a few days or more before an asthma attack.

Take action if:

  • Your child’s symptoms (wheeze, cough, they’re finding it hard to breathe) come back
  • Your child’s asthma wakes them up at night
  • They need to use their reliever inhaler three or more times a week.

Taking action now could prevent your child needing emergency treatment, and save you and all the family a lot of worry, and your child a lot of distress:

  • Always use your child’s written asthma action plan 
  • Check your child’s asthma action plan to see how many times a day they can take their preventer inhaler and their reliever inhaler until their symptoms have gone
  • If your child’s GP or asthma nurse has given you prednisolone (steroid) tablets to keep at home, give your child these exactly as prescribed.  

Your child needs a same day appointment with their GP/Asthma nurse if:

  • You follow the advice on their written asthma action plan for 24 hours and their asthma symptoms don’t improve.
  • They don’t have an asthma action plan.
  • You are worried at any time.
  • They have started taking the prednisolone (steroid) tablets your child’s GP or asthma nurse might have prescribed for emergencies.

If your child’s GP or asthma nurse has given you a phone number to call when you are worried about your child's asthma, use that number.

“If Gabriel gets bad asthma symptoms, we’ve found that using the asthma attack advice and giving him 10 puffs of his blue inhaler works well. We take him to see his GP the same day.” – Anna, mum to two boys with asthma. 

Not sure whether your child’s symptoms are getting worse? You can run through our checklist here or ask one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists for advice (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm): call 0300 222 5800; WhatsApp 07378 606728.

How an Asthma Action Plan can help in an emergency

We’ve mentioned our written asthma action plan a few times on this page. If your child doesn’t have one, you may be wondering what it is and how it can help you. Find out about getting a written asthma action plan for your child. It has many benefits, including reassuring you and all the family that you’ll know exactly what to do if your child has an asthma attack.


Last updated May 2019

Next review due May 2022