Spotting symptoms of asthma in your child or baby

Does your child cough? Wheeze? Get breathless? Spot the signs and decide whether to talk to your doctor about asthma

Spotting asthma symptoms in your child

What asthma symptoms look like in children and clues to spotting them

Video: Spotting asthma symptoms in your child

What asthma symptoms look like in children and clues to spotting them
Transcription for 'Spotting symptoms of asthma in your child'

0:14 If you’re worried your child might have asthma, but you’re not sure whether to talk to your GP about it, this video shows the things to look out for. There are four main symptoms of asthma - coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.

0:34 Children get coughs all the time. So how do you tell if it could be asthma? When your child gets a cough is a good clue. Children with asthma often cough at night time, in the early morning or after exercise. Another sign is if your child has had a cough for a long time and it just won’t go away.

0:57 A wheeze is a whistling sound in your child’s chest, usually when they breathe out. Every child’s wheeze is different and they’re often hard to hear. Even your nurse or doctor might need to use a stethoscope! So, if you can’t hear a wheeze, but your child has other symptoms, I’d still recommend talking to your doctor about asthma.

1:15 Another sign of asthma is chest tightness. This one’s tricky to spot. In my experience, children with chest tightness often rub their tummy or chest. If they can talk, they might say things like, ‘I have a tummy ache’ or ‘my chest hurts’.

1:56 The final symptom to look out for is breathlessness. It’s normal for children to get a bit breathless when they’re running around and playing. So how do you tell if it’s something to worry about? Firstly, you might notice they’re breathing fast, or that they using lots of their body when they breathe – for example shrugging their shoulders up and down. When they’re playing, you might notice they get more out of breath, or stay out of breath for longer, than other children. They might get breathless even when they’re not exercising or being active. And finally, they might start avoiding exercise because they don’t like the symptoms.

2:19 As a parent, it is easy to feel that you’re worrying too much, or that you’ll be bothering your doctor. But, I would always want to know if one of my patients was getting these symptoms. The right treatment could help settle your child’s cough, wheeze, tight chest or breathlessness – so it really is worth getting them seen.

2:26 If you have more questions about asthma, you can always WhatsApp me or one of my nurse colleagues at Asthma UK.

2:35 Contact an Asthma UK nurse on WhatsApp 07378 606 728

Ask your doctor about asthma if your child or baby has one or more of these tell-tale symptoms


  • A cough that won’t go away or keeps coming back.
  • A night time/early morning cough – this is common in children with asthma.
  • A cough after doing exercise or being active.


  • A whistling sound when they breathe.

Tight chest

  • A ‘tummy ache’ is how children might describe it.
  • They might rub their tummy or chest.


  • Listen for fast breathing.
  • Watch to see if they’re using lots of their body when they breathe – for example shrugging their shoulders up and down.

The good news is that the right treatment can settle your child’s symptoms. So, book an appointment with your GP.

“Some parents I talk to feel they’re worrying too much and don’t want to bother their doctor,” says, Suzanne a child asthma nurse specialist on the Asthma UK Helpline. “But if you notice anything strange in your child’s breathing, get them seen.”

When to call 999

Call 999 if your child is struggling to breathe. Signs to look out for are:

  • Their tummy sucking in
  • Their ribs standing out
  • Obvious sucking in at the front of their throat
  • Them not being able to finish sentences or eat because they’re so breathless

Watch out for them acting differently, getting over-tired or going quiet. Remember, you know your child best and it’s always best to call 999 if you’re worried. 

If you’re really not sure, you can always call 111 first.

More information on asthma attacks

Getting a non-urgent appointment with your GP

When you call your GP surgery to book, it’s OK to ask for an appointment as soon as possible. To explain the seriousness, you could say things like “My child isn’t breathing well.” Mention your child’s age too.

Next step: preparing for the appointment

To help your doctor diagnose your child and get the right treatment for them as quickly as possible, use our quick prep checklist. Then share that information with your GP at the appointment. You'll feel more confident knowing what to ask and you won't forget anything.

Last updated July 2018

Next review due July 2021

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