When your child’s asthma diagnosis is confirmed

It can feel like there's lots to take in when your child's just been diagnosed with asthma.

Parents tell us they feel all sorts of things when their child is diagnosed with asthma – from relief that their child is getting the medicine and help they need, to worry about how asthma will affect their child’s day-to-day life. Some parents have a positive sense of moving forward now there’s a clear plan of action in place; while others are anxious about their child’s future.

“How I felt when my children were getting diagnosed with asthma is relieved. Having an asthma diagnosis for them both has helped me as a parent as I have tried to find out as much about the condition as possible. I feel more prepared knowing why they feel unwell.” - Sarah Johnson, mum to Thomas, 13 and William, 3.

"As a toddler, my son Patrick had to be taken to hospital practically every weekend, with breathing problems and constant chest infections. It was such a scary and worrying time. Asthma runs in my husband’s family so we thought that was the reason, but the consultant couldn’t confirm the diagnosis until Patrick was five.” - Jeannette Speight, mum to Patrick who’s now 11.

“Asthma runs in my family. I was diagnosed three or four years ago. My asthma is under control whereas Emelia has been in hospital quite a few times. I often feel guilty that I’m well and Emmie isn’t. I would do anything to swap places with her.” - Scott Brain, dad to Emelia, 8, who has asthma.

Whatever you’re feeling, knowing the facts about what an asthma diagnosis means will help you feel more confident in helping your child to stay symptom-free and get on with doing all the things they enjoy.

When asthma's diagnosed

It can feel like there’s a lot to take in when your child’s just been diagnosed with asthma.

Get to know the asthma basics

Even if you already know family or close friends with asthma, or have asthma yourself, it might help you to take a look at the information we’ve put together especially for parents of a child with asthma. Remember, though, that you don’t need to know everything straight away – your knowledge will build up over time – especially your knowledge of your child’s asthma, as each individual’s needs are so different. You have your GP or asthma nurse to support you, the Asthma UK helpline, and other parents on our social media channels.

Make the most of your child’s GP or asthma nurse

Your child’s GP or asthma nurse is there to support you if you have any questions or concerns. You might find it helpful to write down any questions you have so you can take them to your child’s next appointment. For example, you might want to ask:

  • Will my child’s GP or asthma nurse carry out my child’s regular asthma reviews?
  • How often will my child need an asthma review?
  • How far in advance can I book a review – and will it be a 20-minute appointment?
  • Do you offer an appointment reminder service?
  • What happens if my child needs an urgent appointment?
  • How will my child’s medicines be monitored?
  • Can you explain to me how my child’s medicines work?
  • Who can I ask to check my child’s inhaler technique?
  • How will we get repeat prescriptions?
  • Can we get a spare reliever inhaler to keep at school?

Your child’s GP or asthma nurse will be happy to answer your questions because the more you understand your child’s asthma, the more likely you’ll be to stick to their treatment. This will help them stay symptom-free so they don’t have to miss school, play dates, sports days, sleepovers, days out – or anything else they love doing.

Get some answers to common questions about asthma

Q. Can I help to prevent my child having asthma symptoms?

As a parent, there’s a lot you can do alongside your child’s GP or asthma nurse to help manage your child’s asthma symptoms well and cut their risk of an asthma attack.

Every day

  • Use your child’s written asthma action plan
  • Make sure your child takes their preventer medicine every day as prescribed, and watch them take it to make sure they’re using the right technique
  • Make sure your child always has their reliever inhaler (often blue) with them to use if they have any symptoms

For ideas on how to make this more fun for your child, and how to build it into your daily routine, see our Manage Your Child’s Asthma Well page.

Every six months

  • Take your child for an asthma review with their GP or asthma nurse at least every six months, where you can ask questions and update their written asthma action plan.
  • At the asthma review, ask your GP or asthma nurse to check your child is taking their inhaler(s) correctly.

Q. Will my child grow out of their asthma?

Some children do appear to ‘grow out’ of asthma. But what this really means is that they have a period of being symptom free – and their asthma could come back in later life if it‘s triggered by something such as a new workplace, a period of stress or female hormonal changes such as pregnancy.

If your child has been symptom free for a while, it doesn’t mean they’ve ‘stopped’ having asthma. It could just mean you’ve been managing their asthma well. This is why it’s really important to continue with your child’s daily preventer medicines even when they seem to be well. Although it may seem odd to give your child medicine when they seem well, their preventer medicine reduces inflammation in your child’s airways over time, making them less sensitive and less likely to react to triggers by causing asthma symptoms. If your child stops taking their preventer as prescribed, the inflammation and sensitivity comes back, making your child’s airways more likely to react to their asthma triggers and increasing the risk of asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack.

If your child has been symptom free for three months or more, make an appointment to see their GP or asthma nurse so their treatment can be reviewed.

Q. Will asthma affect my child’s development?

If your child gets lots of asthma symptoms, you might worry about their academic development if they miss lots of school, or their social development if they have to avoid activities, such as sports clubs or play dates. You might also feel concerned their confidence will take a knock because of their asthma – maybe they’ll feel different from other children or hold themselves back from doing something ‘just in case’ it triggers asthma symptoms.

Most children with asthma, though, can take asthma medicines to help them stay symptom-free. If they take their preventer medicine every day exactly as prescribed, their asthma is much less likely to affect their everyday life or development.

“As a parent, you can’t control whether or not your child has asthma, but you can control lots of things that affect how many asthma symptoms they get,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP. “If they do all the right things, such as take their medicines, go for regular asthma reviews and use the correct inhaler technique, they can feel confident that having asthma won’t hold them back from doing anything.”

You can find more ideas on managing your child’s asthma well here.

For the very small percentage of children with severe asthma, their asthma symptoms are likely to have more of an impact on their daily life and development. Severe asthma affects everyone differently, but your child will probably need lots of support to help them understand their own triggers and symptoms, and what things they can and can’t do. If your child has been diagnosed with severe asthma, your consultant can answer your questions and help you to support your child.

Steroids and your child’s growth

Lots of parents also have concerns about their child’s physical development because they’ve heard a rumour that children don’t grow properly if they take steroids. Although there is a link between steroids and a child’s growth, the benefits far outweigh the risks of an average 1cm reduction in height. And poorly controlled asthma can itself affect growth.

“I have had concerns about the side effects of steroids, but the consultant and asthma nurses reassure me that Max is growing. I feel that the risk of him not taking his medication is too great. He needs to take it to be able to do the things he wants to do without his asthma symptoms stopping him.” - Fiona Wright, mum to Max, 10

You can read more about the link between steroids and growth here.

Q. How can I encourage my child to look after their asthma?

It’s a good idea to involve your child as much as possible in looking after their asthma from a young age. Your child will probably feel more confident and empowered about their asthma if they play their part in looking after it. Hopefully it will also help you to feel reassured that they know how to look after themselves when they’re not with you. Why not:

  • Order a My Asthma calendar and stickers set to help make spotting symptoms fun
  • Get your child to put their favourite stickers on their inhaler(s) and spacer
  • Give your child a copy of their asthma action plan to put on their bedroom wall, or if they have a phone, keep a photo of it on there
  • Talk to your child about who they need to tell if they’re feeling unwell when you’re not around
  • Ask your child if they have any questions when you’re with the GP or asthma nurse, and encourage them to talk to their healthcare professionals
  • Encourage older children to keep track of their symptoms on their phone
  • Remind your child that they can ask you any questions or share any worries they have at any time – for instance, if they’re feeling embarrassed about using inhalers in public or worrying that they might have an asthma attack. You can then reassure them, and feel reassured yourself that your child’s being open about their concerns rather than bottling them up.

There are lots more ideas about helping your child learn to manage their own asthma here. 

Ease your worries about your child’s asthma diagnosis

If you’re feeling worried about your child’s asthma diagnosis, you might find it comforting to know that many parents felt the same when their child was first diagnosed, but have become more confident over time that their child can fulfil their potential when they look after their asthma well.   

If you would find it helpful to talk to somebody about how you’re feeling so they can reassure you, there are some great places to go:

  • Your child’s GP or asthma nurse is there to support you
  • Our friendly Helpline nurses are available on weekdays between 9am and 5pm (0300 222 5800)
  • You can chat to other parents of a child with asthma on our forum
  • Lots of parents find social media useful so have a look at our Facebook and Twitter pages

You may also find it helpful to spot any negative thoughts and try replacing them with more positive ones. This is a good way to help you feel less stressed and more confident about dealing with things. You might find this hard to do at first but it gets easier over time and you might be surprised at just how much difference it can make. For example:

REPLACE: “There’s too much information about asthma for me to take in”

WITH: “I don’t need to know everything about asthma, I only need to understand my what my child needs right now”

You don’t need to know everything there is to know about asthma! Getting to know your own child’s symptoms, triggers and treatment is an important way to help you feel more in control of this new diagnosis. 

REPLACE: “I’m scared my child will have an asthma attack”

WITH: “I will feel confident about keeping my child safe if I know what to do if their asthma symptoms are getting worse or if they’re having an asthma attack – and their action plan tells me all those things”

Modern asthma medicines are so effective that taking them as prescribed every day will cut your child’s risk of an asthma attack. In case your child does have an asthma attack, though, it’s important that:

  1. your child’s reliever inhaler (usually blue) is always in easy reach
  2. you feel confident about what to do – you can find the information on their asthma action plan
  3. anyone who looks after your child feels confident about recognising the symptoms of an asthma attack early and knowing what to do quickly – give them a paper copy or send them a photo of your child’s asthma action plan 

REPLACE: “I’m worried I won’t be able to keep my child well”

WITH: “I’m doing all the things my GP has recommended which will help my child stay well with their asthma"

If you get into a good routine with your child’s asthma medicines and avoid any obvious asthma triggers, like cigarette smoke, you can reassure yourself that you’re doing everything you can to cut your child’s risk of asthma symptoms and an asthma attack. 

REPLACE: “I’m scared other people won’t be able to look after my child’s asthma properly”

WITH: “I’m going to help other people understand what my child needs to look after their asthma properly”

You can help other people who look after your child understand what your child needs by:

  • Sitting down with them and talking them through your child’s asthma action plan, making sure they know what to do if your child has an asthma attack
  • Giving them a paper copy or sending them a photo of your child’s asthma action plan
  • Making sure they’ve got your contact details and that they know when to call you
  • Making sure they know where your child keeps their inhaler and that they know how to use it
  • Reminding them that cigarette smoke can trigger asthma symptoms or an asthma attack
  • Running through the asthma attack advice with them

REPLACE: “Asthma will hold my child back in life”

WITH: “There are plenty of inspiring role models to prove that asthma doesn’t have to hold my child back – and asthma medicines are so effective these days that living symptom-free is often possible”

It’s easy at first to focus on all the things you think your child won’t be able to do – but keep in mind the inspiring people with asthma who haven’t let it hold them back, including:

  • One Direction Singer Niall Horan
  • Olympic cyclist Laura Trott
  • Actor Idris Elba
  • Footballer David Beckham
  • Runner Paula Radcliffe
  • Singer Pink
  • Actress Jessica Alba
  • London mayor Sadiq Khan
  • Comedian Bill Bailey 

Last updated May 2016