Understanding your child’s first GP appointment for suspected asthma

Seeing the doctor about possible asthma symptoms for the first time can leave you with questions – our asthma nurse Debby answers them

It’s OK if you leave your first doctor’s appointment with more questions than answers about your child’s suspected asthma. It’s a common situation, and Debby, one of the child asthma nurse specialists on the Asthma UK Helpline is here to help you make sense of it all.

My doctor said they couldn’t confirm if my child has asthma - why not?

“Getting an asthma diagnosis can be tricky for a number of reasons, including that younger children can’t do the tests. Plus, symptoms like coughing and wheezing can be caused by other conditions, so your doctor will want to rule those out too,” says Debby.

“But, just because your child’s diagnosis isn’t confirmed doesn’t mean they won’t get help. Your doctor can do a lot to help your child stop getting symptoms  while they’re working out if your child has asthma.” 

The doctor said my child has ‘suspected asthma’ - what does this mean?

“This means there is a good chance your child has asthma, but that because of your child’s age, it’s not yet possible to get a diagnosis.

“Understandably, you might find this frustrating, as you want answers. But your doctor will do everything they can to diagnose asthma and look after your child while you wait.”

The doctor said we should try a ‘trial of treatment’ - what does this mean?

“This means your doctor will give your child medicines to see whether they help reduce their symptoms. Usually for about eight weeks.

“All you need to do is make sure your child is taking the medicines when they’re meant to, so you can properly check whether they help their symptoms.

“If the medicines don’t help the symptoms, then your doctor will look at what else may be causing them.

“If the medicines do work, your child might be asked to stop taking them for a short time to see if the symptoms come back. If they do, it’s likely your child has asthma, and they’ll be treated as if they do until they’re old enough to do the tests.”

Our doctor gave us a blue/reliever inhaler - what are we meant to do with it?

“You should give the reliever inhaler (which is usually blue) to your child if they get symptoms like a cough, wheeze, tight chest or breathlessness.

“The reliever inhaler stops symptoms by quickly opening up your child’s airways and making it easier for them to breathe.

“It’s really important that your child has the reliever with them at all times and they use it as soon as they start experiencing any symptoms. Otherwise, the symptoms might become an asthma attack.

“Having a reliever inhaler doesn’t mean your child has asthma, but it will keep them safe while you’re trying to find out.”

What to do if your child has an asthma attack

How do I give my child their inhaler?

“Our short videos will give you step-by-step instructions.

“My top tip is to get a spacer for your child as well – this makes the inhaler much easier to use. Our spacer videos show how they work.”

More advice about helping your child with their medicines

The doctor said we should ‘watch and wait’ - why aren’t they doing something?

“‘Watch and wait’ means keeping an eye on symptoms without treating them. Being told to ‘watch and wait’ can be frustrating as it may feel like diagnosis is being delayed. But it gives your doctor (and you) the chance to monitor your child’s symptoms and look for clues to see what causes them. The more information they have, the more possible a diagnosis becomes.

“If you’re keen to keep things moving, track your child’s symptoms. And don’t be afraid to talk to the doctor if anything changes. Keep that reliever inhaler handy too, and know how to keep your child safe.

The doctor said to track my child’s symptoms - how do I do that?

“All this means is taking notes of when your child has symptoms – so coughing, wheezing, breathlessness or a tight chest.

“Just put a note in your phone or write down what the symptoms are, when they had them, what you think triggered them and how you stopped them.

“As a nurse, it really helps me if you tell me what their symptoms have been, because you’re with them all the time and I’m not!”

Get more tips on tracking symptoms

So… what’s the next step?

“Getting a diagnosis can take time, as your doctor will have to piece lots of information together. This page explains more about the process you might go through.

“Lots of parents I speak to do find the amount of time it takes a bit annoying. My advice is to take control of the things you can, like:

  • Knowing what to do when your child’s symptoms gets worse
  • Giving your child their medicines as the doctor prescribes
  • Tracking their symptoms so you can report back
  • Going to their follow up appointments.

Get more help with caring for your child when they have suspected asthma

Ask our nurses if you have more questions

You’re not alone while waiting for a diagnosis. If you’re confused or have more questions, you can always WhatsApp chat our friendly asthma nurse specialists on 07378 606 728 or give them a call on 0300 222 5800 to talk through any concerns. Both are open 9-5 Monday to Friday.