Seeing your child have an asthma attack is usually a very shocking or frightening experience, especially if they end up in hospital or being treated in an ambulance.
Some parents tell us they feel guilty and wonder whether there’s anything they could have done differently. If your child hasn’t had serious asthma symptoms before, you might be confused about why they’ve had an asthma attack now. Perhaps you thought you were doing everything possible to manage your child’s asthma so you feel frustrated or angry. All these feelings are normal reactions and you may experience ups and downs for a while.
“I tend to be very calm and orderly. It’s later when I crumble.” Cheryl Davies Pyatt, whose son Corey has asthma.
What’s most important now is to help your child recover fully from their asthma attack, and lower the risk of another one. It’s scary to know that 1 in 6 people who receive emergency treatment for an asthma attack need emergency treatment again within two weeks. But it doesn’t have to be that way – there are a few simple, practical steps you can take to help your child.
How do I know if my child had an asthma attack?
Remember - not everyone who has an asthma attack needs to go to hospital. Your child may have been successfully treated by paramedics, or their symptoms may have been eased when they used their reliever inhaler (usually blue).
Your child may have had an asthma attack if:
- They needed more puffs of their reliever inhaler than usual to help their symptoms or
- Their reliever inhaler didn’t help, and/or
- They couldn’t talk or walk easily, and/or
- They were breathing hard and fast, and/or
- They coughed or wheezed a lot.
Whether or not they ended up in hospital, they’ve had an asthma attack, which is potentially life threatening – so it’s vital to take action to cut their risk of having another one. You might find it helpful to see it as a wakeup call for their doctors and for you, that has shown you there needs to be an urgent asthma review and perhaps a new routine. Take these four steps so you don’t risk looking back and wishing you’d done things differently.
4 things to do immediately after an asthma attack
Just four simple steps can help your child recover from their asthma attack and reduce their risk of having another one.
Make sure they keep taking their medicines
Using their preventer inhaler exactly as prescribed is the best way to help stop another asthma attack. It will also help keep your child as free from symptoms as possible. If your child has ended up in hospital, make sure their inhaler technique is checked before you take them home - many people don’t use their inhalers properly.
You may find your child has significant improvements in symptoms from even small tweaks to their inhaler technique. If you’re not already in a good routine with their inhaler, now’s the time to make a plan for using it as prescribed. For example, you could decide they’ll take it before they brush their teeth every morning and night.
Follow their asthma action plan
If your child already has a written asthma action plan, this will be updated with instructions on what medicines your child needs to take and when, and what to do if you notice their symptoms getting worse again. If your child doesn’t have an asthma action plan yet, you should be given one. Research shows people who use written asthma action plans are four times less likely to need emergency treatment for their asthma than those who don’t use them.
Book an urgent asthma review
If your child didn’t need to go to hospital…
They need to see their GP or asthma nurse as soon as possible to reduce their risk of having another asthma attack. The guidelines that doctors follow recommend making an urgent same-day appointment for them.
If your child was hospitalised…
Take them to see their GP or asthma nurse within two working days of coming home. The hospital should let your GP practice know within 24 hours that your child has had emergency treatment but don’t assume this has happened or wait to be called – be proactive and book the appointment straight away.
At the appointment, your GP or asthma nurse will check your child is getting better. They will also help you and your child put steps in place to regain some control over their asthma. For example, they’ll check your child is using their inhalers properly, so they get the most benefits from their medicine. See below for more information on what happens at this appointment.
Give your child time to recover
Everyone’s different, but it’s likely your child will feel very tired in the days after their asthma attack. Try not to worry – the Asthma UK nurses say this is normal. Let your child rest as much as they need to. They shouldn’t go back to school before they’re ready – at your child’s urgent asthma review (see below), you can talk to the GP or asthma nurse about the right time for them to return to school. Speak to the school about this too.
No matter how they are feeling and acting, if you do these four things, you can feel sure you’re taking the important steps to help your child look after their asthma.
This urgent review your child has after their asthma attack is very important. Remember – if they weren’t hospitalised, you need to make them a same-day appointment. If your child ended up in hospital, they’ve already had emergency treatment by doctors, but they still need to see their GP or asthma nurse within two working days of coming out of hospital.
At the urgent review, your GP or asthma nurse may:
- Check how your child’s symptoms are and listen to their chest
- Consider changing your child’s medicines, or putting them on a different dose
- Check their inhaler and spacer technique
- Complete or update a written asthma action plan with you and your child, updating it with all the information that will help you manage your child’s asthma and lower their risk of another asthma attack.
- Discuss any symptoms you noticed before your child’s asthma attack, including anything that made them worse. This might help you get a clearer idea of the warning signs to look out for in future, and the things that trigger your child’s symptoms.
The appointment is for you and your child, so use our easy tips to get the most from it.
Before the review, make sure you…
- Think about anything you want to ask the GP or asthma nurse, whether it’s a question about your child’s triggers or concerns about their medicine. Ask your child to think about anything they’d like to ask or are worried about, too. Write the questions down so you don’t forget them. You could write the most important questions first, in case you don’t have time to ask them all.
- Download a written asthma action plan, if your child doesn’t have one already. Your GP or asthma nurse will fill it in with you in the appointment. If your child already has a written asthma action plan, make sure you take it with you so it can be updated.
- Remember to take your child’s medicines with you, including their inhalers and spacer, so their GP or asthma nurse can check their inhaler technique.
- Consider phoning the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm). Our expert nurses can chat through ways to get the most from your child’s review. This may be especially helpful if you haven’t been happy with reviews in the past.
In the review, make sure you...
- Discuss any concerns you or your child have, even if you think they may seem silly. You don’t want to go away worrying about something and wishing you’d asked about it. Talk about your concerns and let your GP or asthma nurse put your mind at rest. Imagine how much more confident you’ll feel if those important questions are answered. If you do have any unanswered questions after the review, you could call the Asthma UK Helpline and speak to our expert nurses: 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri, 9am – 5pm).
- Check you’ve understood everything your GP or asthma nurse has said. Ask them to repeat something in clearer language if you’re not sure what they mean. Remember - they want you and your child to go away with a clear understanding of how to look after your child’s asthma.
- Find out when you should think about sending your child back to school.
- Ask if your child needs another appointment in the next few weeks, to see how they’re getting on.
Everyday steps to cut your child’s future risk
An asthma attack can be a wakeup call. It might show that you need to manage your child’s asthma differently. It’s a chance to put some steps in place to reduce your child’s risk of having another asthma attack in the longer term. This can save you, your child and your family a lot of distress and worry.
One of the best things you can do to manage your child’s asthma well is follow their written asthma action plan. You could take a photo of your child’s action plan and store it on your phone, so you have it with you whenever you need it. And consider emailing or printing a copy for anyone who looks after your child – their grandparents or childminder, for example. Having your child’s action plan to hand can give you great peace of mind. It can help you and your family feel confident you’ll know what to do if your child has symptoms again.
Find out more about the simple ways to manage your child’s asthma well.
Deal with difficult feelings
The whole family can go through a range of emotions after a child’s asthma attack – these tips will help you all cope.
Parents often tell us they feel guilty after their child has had an asthma attack. If you do, you might be going over the days running up to the asthma attack, wondering if there’s anything you could have done differently.
Managing your child’s asthma well reduces their chances of having an asthma attack. “But a child can have an asthma attack for many reasons,” says Sonia Munde, Asthma UK Head of Helpline. “Some of the most common triggers include colds and other viruses, cold air and allergies. It’s not always possible to prevent an asthma attack.” So try not to be hard on yourself.
Focus on the present and the future instead. The tips on this page will help cut the chances of your child having another asthma attack – and give you the practical steps you need if it does happen again. That means you and your family can all feel confident you’re looking after your child’s asthma as best you can.
Your child may be very frightened after having an asthma attack. Reassure them and tell them that together, you’re going to put some steps in place to help stop it happening again. Explain that if it does ever happen again, the doctors will be able to help them, as they did this time. Encourage them to talk about their fears – you could write down some of their worries together and talk them through with your child’s GP or asthma nurse.
Your other children may have been scared to see their sibling having an asthma attack. Explain that doing certain things can help stop it happening again and tell them they can help. Show them your child’s asthma action plan and go through it with them. They could even keep a copy stuck to the wall in their bedroom. You could also explain how important it is for your child to take their medicine every day – their sibling could help by reminding them to take it. Involving your other children can help make managing asthma a normal part of family life.
“As a family we cope really well with the girls having asthma, but there have been some challenging times. My lowest point was when Emelia was lying in hospital with four cannulas in her arms after a bad asthma attack and she said to me, ‘Dad, am I going to die?’ I was shattered to hear my little girl saying that, but I hid my feelings and reassured her by saying, ‘Everything’s going to be ok, the doctor’s going to help you and you’re going to get better.’ Telling my wife Maria about that later really helped because I knew she would understand how I'd felt.” Scott Brain, dad to Emelia, 8, and Elisia, 3, who both have asthma
Last updated May 2016