If your child’s asthma is managed well, it’s likely they’ll be able to get on with all the things they enjoy doing without asthma symptoms getting in the way.
Your child’s GP or asthma nurse plays their part by prescribing medicines, updating your child’s written asthma action plan at their six-monthly reviews, helping you work out your child’s triggers and keeping a record of your child’s asthma over time. Your role, and the way you look after your child’s asthma in between appointments, is crucial too.
In between visits to your child’s GP or asthma nurse, there are lots of things you and your child can do so they can stay well and cut the risk of an asthma attack. That way, they won’t miss out on living life to the full, and neither will you.
1. Use and share your child’s written asthma action plan
One of the best ways to look after your child’s asthma and cut their risk of an asthma attack is to make sure they’re using an up-to-date written asthma action plan. Your child’s GP or asthma nurse will fill it out with you so it is personal to your child. You can then take it to all your child’s asthma appointments so any changes can be made and it can be kept up to date.
Using your child’s asthma action plan helps you, and anyone else looking after your child, feel confident about dealing with asthma symptoms. It tells you what to do every day to keep your child well, how to spot the signs that your child’s asthma is getting worse, what to do if it is and what to do if they have an asthma attack.
- pin a copy on your family noticeboard or stick a copy on the fridge
- take a photo of it on your phone and send it to family and friends
- share copies with the school, after-school club leaders and sports coaches
- give your child their own copy if they’re old enough.
2. Make spotting symptoms fun
If you have a younger child, you might like to order our My Asthma pack. It comes with a calendar and set of smiley face stickers to encourage your child to keep an eye on their asthma symptoms. Parents have told us they find using the calendar useful because it’s:
- fun - most children love stickers, so using the calendar makes spotting symptoms a great activity
- motivating - your child will see that taking their asthma medicines as prescribed and discussed with their GP or asthma nurse and taking care with their asthma triggers means they can have lots of good days
- confidence-boosting - using a symptom calendar or diary is a good way to get your child involved and teach them about their own asthma - in a survey, 90 per cent of parents thought our My Asthma calendar helped their child understand their asthma symptoms better
- practical - you can take the calendar to show your child’s GP so they can see how your child’s asthma has been
“What’s really helped us is the Asthma UK children’s pack. I think it helped Emelia to understand the condition and to feel more in control. And it’s really useful for us to take the chart to her six-monthly reviews so we can show the doctor when her symptoms have been worse or when she’s been using her inhaler more often.“ Maria Brain, mother to Emelia, seven
Older children might like to keep a log of their symptoms on a calendar in their phone – using emoticons for good and bad days.
3. See your GP or asthma nurse regularly
Take your child for an asthma review every six months
An asthma review is a chance to talk to your GP or asthma nurse about how your child is getting on with their asthma. Even if your child is feeling well, take them for a regular review because asthma symptoms can come and go, they can change over time or they can change during the course of the year.
Book an appointment with your child’s GP or asthma nurse when you need to
If your child’s having symptoms, don’t wait for their asthma review – book an appointment for your child straight away. Your child’s asthma action plan will help you decide when this is necessary, but if there’s ever anything about your child’s asthma that’s worrying you, trust your instincts and book them in to see their GP or asthma nurse.
It’s also a good idea to book an appointment at key times, like the start of a new school term or before you’re going on holiday, to talk through your child’s asthma action plan and check their medicines.
4. Quit smoking
If you’re a smoker, or anyone else in the family smokes, your child’s asthma will be harder to control and their asthma medicine will not be able to work as well. Giving up can be a challenge, but reminding yourself you’re helping your child stay well is an excellent way to stay motivated. Ask your GP or a pharmacist for advice about giving up.
Remember, too, that being around anyone else’s tobacco smoke will make your child's asthma symptoms worse and put them at risk of an asthma attack. So make sure other people don’t smoke around your child either.
As your child gets older, talk to them about the risks of smoking. They’ll be less likely to experiment with their friends if they understand that even one puff of a cigarette could trigger asthma symptoms or even a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
5. Help your child stay active
Whether they’re running around in a play park, having a kick about with their friends or playing sport for a team (or doing any other activity for that matter), asthma doesn’t have to stop your child from exercising. Far from it – exercise is good for their asthma! Encourage them to be as active as possible.
“Swimming has been really good for Oliver. It builds up his stamina and improves his energy levels. It has also helped him with his breathing – when we go swimming twice a week I notice that he’s struggling less and his breathing has become more regular and consistent.” Alexa Keatley, mum to Oliver, 11, who first had asthma symptoms as a baby
6. Keep an eye on your child’s weight
If your child is overweight, your GP or asthma nurse will support you to help them to lose weight in a sensible, healthy way. They might even refer you to a dietitian for specialist advice. Losing weight may help to improve your child’s asthma control.
7. Make sure your child stays safe if they’re trying complementary therapies
Although you can find lots of promising claims about complementary therapies on the internet and in forums, they haven’t been studied as much as conventional medicines, so there’s not very much scientific evidence to show they work or that they’re even safe.
It is very important that you check with your GP or asthma nurse before your child tries a new complementary therapy and that you don’t stop giving your child their prescribed medicines (unless your GP or asthma nurse advises you to do so).
1. Get to know your child’s asthma medicines
Make sure you, and anyone else looking after your child, understands what medicines your child needs to take for their asthma and why – usually a preventer inhaler (or other preventer medicine) to take every day, and a reliever inhaler (usually blue) on hand for when they get asthma symptoms. Your child’s written asthma action plan is a good reminder of what your child’s GP or asthma nurse has prescribed.
If you have any questions about your child’s medicines, book an appointment with their GP or asthma nurse. They’ll be happy to talk you through the benefits of each medicine because the better you understand them, the more likely you’ll be to get your child to take them exactly as prescribed every single day.
It’s also worth remembering that a pharmacist can answer any medicine-related questions you have. And the great thing is you don’t need an appointment – just go to the pharmacy counter when you’re next in the supermarket, or pop into a pharmacy when you’re in town.
2. Ease any worries you have about your child’s asthma medicines
If you’ve got any concerns about your child’s asthma medicines, you might be less likely to give your child their asthma medicines exactly as prescribed. Instead of bottling up any worries, it’s helpful to share them with somebody who can reassure you.
- speak to your child’s GP, asthma nurse or consultant
- call one of our friendly asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm).
3. Get into a good routine with your child’s preventer medicine
Getting your child to take their preventer medicine at the same times in the same place every day means it will become part of their everyday routine, and they’ll be less likely to forget to take their medicine. If your child needs to take their preventer inhaler twice a day, for example, why not keep their inhaler and spacer on the bathroom shelf and get them to take it before they clean their teeth every morning and evening while you’re watching over them to make sure they’re using the right inhaler technique.
“Life became a lot easier once we got Rosemary into a routine. We started numbering things so we'd say she had to do three things before she went to bed: 1. wash your face; 2. do your inhaler; 3. brush your teeth. In the mornings she does her inhaler while I do her hair. We keep the brown inhaler downstairs on a table next to the sofa. We keep her blue inhaler at the end of her bed so we can get to it easily in the night.” Tammy Gore, mum to Rosemary, 6, who had her first asthma attack when she was two
“As a family, taking asthma medicines is part of our normal routine. Emelia has a medicine basket in her bedroom where she keeps her inhalers. She needs to take two puffs of her preventer inhaler every morning and every evening along with her other medication. She knows the symptoms and comes and tells me if she needs to take her reliever inhaler. Elisia is also in a good routine. She just wants to do it right like her big sister." Maria Brain, mum to two girls, Emelia, 8, and Elisia, 3.
4. Take your child’s reliever inhaler (usually blue) everywhere
Taking your child’s reliever inhaler everywhere means they’ll have it to hand to use immediately if they get asthma symptoms. Before you/they step outside the front door, get into the habit of either:
- checking you’ve got it with you
or, if they’re older and going out without you,
- asking them if they’ve got it with them.
“Mornings can be a nightmare because George and Lena have to get the school bus for 7.15 so we’re always rushing. I ask them if they’ve taken their inhalers just as they’re walking out the door! Normally they say yes because leaving them out on their bedside tables reminds them. But I always ask them just in case…” Jayne Bettles, whose children George and Lena both have asthma
Some parents have told us it helps a younger child to keep the blue reliever inhaler in a special bag, rucksack or lunch box that’s decorated with their child’s favourite superhero – if your child likes carrying the bag, it will encourage them to remember to take it everywhere.
It’s also worth leaving a spare inhaler anywhere they go often – at school, at grandparents’ houses, at your ex-partner’s house if you’re separated, for example.
“When we’re at home, I make sure that our reliever inhalers are somewhere I can always see them – a shelf in the kitchen. And when we’re out I make sure the boys have the right inhaler and spacer to hand. My daughter’s baby bag has more stuff for the boys than for her!” Hayley Wing and her two sons Zak, 10, and Zane, 8, all have asthma
Remember - your child’s blue reliever inhaler is only for them to use if symptoms come on. If your child’s symptoms mean they need to use it three or more times a week it’s a sign their asthma is not well controlled and you need to see your child’s GP or asthma nurse so they can review your child’s treatment.
5. Get your child’s inhaler technique checked regularly
Whatever type(s) of inhaler (and spacer) your child’s using, it’s very important that their inhaler technique is checked regularly – by their GP, asthma nurse or a pharmacist. If your child is using their inhaler(s) correctly, they’ll get the full benefits of the medicine and they’ll be more likely to stay well with their asthma.
Even if your child has been using an inhaler for ages, they might have slipped into bad habits or benefit from a tiny tweak, so it’s always worth another check.
An asthma trigger is anything that can set off your child’s asthma by irritating their sensitive airways. It’s possible for your child to have several triggers.
Common asthma triggers include smoking, colds and viruses, pollen, house dust mites, mould, pets, exercise and cold weather.
How can you deal with asthma triggers?
Many common triggers aren’t things you can avoid – such as pollution, pollen and cold weather. But you can stop your child’s airways being so sensitive and inflamed (and less likely to react to these triggers), by using their asthma medicines exactly as prescribed. Protecting your children’s airways with their medicines means they’re less likely to be bothered by asthma symptoms and can get on with playing with friends and enjoying their favourite activities.
Some asthma triggers can be avoided more easily. If you understand which things trigger your child’s asthma you might be able to help them avoid them. For example, colds and flu food allergies and cigarette smoke.
If you’re not sure what your child’s asthma triggers are, you might find it helpful to:
- keep a symptom diary to help you spot any patterns
- speak to your GP or asthma nurse who can help you work out likely triggers
Once you know what your child’s asthma triggers are, making small changes can help them manage their asthma well. Find out more about managing individual triggers here.
“Because pollen is a trigger for our asthma, I make sure we keep the boys inside until the cut grass has settled. They have a repeat prescription for their hay fever medicines and we regularly check the pollen count.” Hayley Wing and her two sons Zak, 10, and Zane, 8, all have asthma
“Cold and damp weather is the worst trigger for all of us. In November, both boys tend to get a night-time cough. During a cold spell, we always make sure wear neck ‘tubes’ around our mouths and noses – they’re a bit like scarves, but you can pull them up easier and they don’t unravel. Apparently wearing them warms up the air before we breathe it in and helps to prevent asthma symptoms.” Anna Bonnett, who has asthma as do her sons Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5.
If your child is taking their medicines as prescribed but is still having asthma symptoms, speak to their GP or asthma nurse about the best ways to help them.
Last updated May 2016