“Talking to your child about their asthma, even when they’re really young, can help them understand what asthma is, why they might get symptoms like coughing and wheezing, and how their asthma medicines help them,” says Asthma UK nurse Debby Waddell. “It can also help them spot the signs of an asthma attack.”
How you talk to your child about asthma depends on their age and how much they understand about their asthma already.
Whatever their questions about asthma, here are some simple examples to get you started.
What is asthma?
Lots of people have asthma. If you have asthma it means you can get symptoms like coughing and wheezing sometimes.
You need to take your asthma preventer inhaler every day so you don’t get symptoms so much.
Asthma doesn’t go away but if you look after your asthma well you may not have any symptoms at all.
Why do I have asthma?
Scientists have lots of ideas about why people get asthma, but they don’t know for sure yet. Some children with asthma have it because their mum or dad or someone else in the family has it.
You can’t catch asthma from someone else, and they can’t catch it from you.
What things make my asthma worse?
Everyone has certain things that make their asthma worse, called triggers. For example, cats, dust or smoke can be triggers for some people. You have things that set off your asthma too. They might make it harder for you to breathe properly.
If you take your asthma medicine every day you won’t get symptoms so much even when you’re around your asthma triggers.
Why do I need inhalers?
You need to use your preventer inhaler every day. It protects your airways so you don’t get asthma symptoms.
Sometimes you need your blue reliever inhaler. You use it when you have symptoms. It helps you feel better quickly. You need to take it with you everywhere in case you start to find it hard to breathe.
Will I have asthma forever?
Unlike a cold, or chickenpox, asthma doesn't go away completely. But if you take your asthma medicines every day you’re less likely to notice any asthma symptoms and your asthma won’t stop you doing all the things you want to do, like playing with friends or doing sports.
How can I tell my friends about my asthma?
You can tell them that sometimes it’s hard for you to breathe, but your inhalers help make it easier so you can join in all the things they do.
Your friends will probably already know someone with asthma because lots of people have it. There’s probably someone else in your class/year who has asthma, too.
What if my asthma gets worse?
Your medicine will help stop your asthma getting worse if you use it every day. The doctors and nurses who look after you will help you stay well, too.
But if you do start to feel not well, tell me, or your teacher, or another grown up you know straight away. We can help you use your reliever inhaler. And if your symptoms don’t go away we can get you help if you need it.
What is an asthma attack?
An asthma attack is when you can’t get enough air into your lungs. Think of a straw. You can usually suck through lots of air. But if you squeeze the straw, you can’t suck through as much air. That’s what it’s like for people when they’re having an asthma attack.
Do you remember when you had an asthma attack?
You were wheezing/coughing/couldn’t talk very well/had a tummy ache. You had to use your blue reliever inhaler. Your reliever helped. But we went to see the doctor to talk about it.
If it happens again, we know what to do. If the blue reliever inhaler doesn’t help much, we might need to go to hospital, where the doctors can help you. But if you take your medicines every day it’s much less likely to happen again.
Try these simple tips to help you talk to your child about their asthma.
1. Do your asthma homework
Think about the kinds of questions your child might ask so you can have answers ready. You could look at all the information we’ve put together for parents, or download our ‘Asthma and my child’ booklet.
You can also ask our asthma nurses for advice by calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Monday-Friday; 9am–5pm) or messaging them via WhatsApp on 07378 606728.
2. Use 'props' to help explain asthma
Lots of parents find it helpful to use a ‘prop’ when they’re talking to their child. For example, you could pretend a toy like a teddy or doll has asthma, and talk about how it might feel.
Or use the ‘My Asthma calendar’ to help talk to your child about their asthma symptoms.
If they’re a bit older, you could talk through their written asthma action plan with them to help them understand more about their asthma.
3. Take turns to talk about asthma
Encourage your child to ask you anything they want to know about their asthma.
Then you can ask your child a question too, to get them talking. For example, ask if they know what to do if they have asthma symptoms.
Remember, though, that you don’t need to know everything! If you’re unsure about something, you can look up the answer together.
Or tell your child you’ll write the question down and ask their GP or asthma nurse when you next see them for your child's asthma review.
Need more support?
Don’t forget you can contact the asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 or via WhatsApp on 07378 606728 (Monday-Friday; 9am–5pm).
Last updated April 2020
Next review due April 2023