Symptoms of asthma in children

The symptoms of asthma can range from mild to severe. When asthma symptoms get significantly worse it is known as an asthma attack.

The common symptoms of asthma include:

  • feeling breathless (sometimes gasping for breath)
  • a tight chest, like a band tightening around it
  • wheezing (there may be a whistling sound when your child breathes)
  • coughing, particularly at night and early morning
  • attacks triggered by exercise, exposure to allergens and other triggers

Symptoms vary between children and they may have one or more of these symptoms. If symptoms become worse during the night or with exercise, your child’s asthma may not be well controlled. Take your child to see their doctor or asthma nurse.

Asthma attack

A severe asthma attack usually develops slowly, taking 6 to 48 hours to become serious. However, for some children, asthma symptoms can get worse quickly.

Be aware of any signs of worsening asthma in your child. These may include:

  • your child becoming more wheezy, tight chested or breathless 
  • the reliever inhaler (usually blue) not helping as much as usual
  • a drop in peak expiratory flow rate (see diagnosing asthma in children for more information)

If you notice your child’s symptoms getting worse, do not ignore them. Contact your GP or asthma clinic, or consult their asthma action plan, if they have one.

Signs of a severe asthma attack include:

  • the reliever inhaler does not help symptoms at all
  • the symptoms (wheezing, coughing, tight chest) will be severe and constant
  • breathing very fast and too breathless to complete a sentence in one breath or too breathless to talk or feed 
  • a racing pulse
  • feeling agitated or restless 
  • lips or finger nails may turn blue

Call 999 and ask for an ambulance if your child has severe symptoms of asthma.

You may be advised to give extra doses of the reliever inhaler while you are waiting for the ambulance.

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