Child with asthma playing football

My Family, Our Needs has teamed up with Asthma UK to bring you the facts about asthma. We’ll also be running a competition so make sure you keep reading to the end to find out more.

Asthma is a long-term condition causing the airways to become narrow and inflamed making them more sensitive to ‘triggers’ such as pollen and cold air. It affects as many as 5.4 million people in the UK, including 1.1 million children – so most of us will know someone with asthma. But because it’s common, it’s easy to think that it’s not serious. Just a bit of coughing and wheezing, right?  Actually, no. If it’s not well-managed, symptoms like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath can impact on everyday life and develop into a life-threatening asthma attack. Every day in the UK, 185 people are hospitalised because of asthma attacks and tragically, three people die.

How is asthma diagnosed and treated?

Asthma can start at any age, but symptoms usually start in childhood. However, diagnosing it isn’t straightforward, and can take weeks, months or even years. This is because symptoms can come and go, and because there are lots of other reasons why children cough and wheeze, including colds and viral infections. Also, common tests to measure how well lungs are working aren’t suitable for small children.

Most children with asthma will be given two inhalers – a preventer inhaler and a reliever inhaler. Your child may also be given these if they have suspected asthma to help with getting a clear diagnosis, which is known as a ‘trial of treatment’.

  • A preventer inhaler, as the name suggests, prevents symptoms by reducing sensitivity, swelling and inflammation in your child’s airways, so they’re less likely to react to triggers. It builds up protection over time which means it needs to be taken every day as prescribed.
  • A reliever inhaler (usually blue) relieves symptoms. It works quickly to get your child’s asthma back in control when they’re coughing, wheezing and finding it hard to breathe.

Knowing how to take their inhalers properly can make a huge difference to your child’s asthma so it’s important to get technique guidance from your child’s GP or asthma nurse. You can also watch inhaler technique videos here

How can spacers help?
Spacers are large plastic cylinders that fit onto the end of inhalers. They can help your child take their inhalers more easily and effectively. They get medicine straight into your child’s lungs, so it doesn’t hang around in their mouth, causing side effects like a sore throat or thrush. Using one also means your child doesn’t need to work at co-ordinating their breathing and pressing the inhaler down in the right way, which can be tricky. Older children and adults can also benefit, and spacers with facemasks are good for babies or children who find it hard to use ordinary ones.

Help your child stay well

There are proven things you can do to give your child the best chance of feeling well and enjoying life. As well as making sure they take their asthma medicine as prescribed, take your child for asthma reviews with their GP or asthma nurse every six months. This is a chance to talk about your child’s symptoms, have their medicines checked and discuss and update their written asthma action plan.

If you’ve not been provided with an action plan, download a copy from Asthma UK’s website and take it along to your next appointment. Using a written asthma action plan means your child is far less likely to have asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.

When it comes to dealing with those things that trigger your child’s asthma, getting into a good medicines routine is the best way to help their body cope well. Many triggers can’t be avoided, such as pollution or pollen, but some can, like cigarette smoke or pets. Keeping a symptom calendar can help you spot patterns, so you can minimise them where possible. A symptom calendar can also help your child really learn about their asthma, as well as inform their nurse or doctor. It can include symptoms, medication and daily activities.     

Support your child to manage their asthma

Getting organised can help you stay confident about your child’s asthma. Parents have shared useful tips with us, including always having spare reliever inhalers and spacers in the house and putting up a noticeboard to log information like upcoming GP appointments.

Whatever their age and ability, encourage your child to get involved in their asthma care, so they feel more in control about looking after themselves as they get older. For example, complete their symptom calendar together, ask your child to wash out their spacer, or decorate their inhaler with stickers. As they get older, encourage them to carry a copy of their asthma action plan or keep a picture of it on their phone, and get used to talking to their GP or nurse about their asthma. Help them to stay active too – exercise is good for their asthma!

Be asthma attack aware

It’s frightening to think about your child having an asthma attack. However, recognising the signs and responding quickly can be life-saving, so it’s essential that you, your family and anyone else who looks after your child knows exactly what to do in an emergency.

Take urgent action if your child’s usual asthma symptoms are getting worse, their reliever isnt helping, they’re coughing or wheezing a lot, or finding it hard to breathe, talk or walk easily. Some children also complain of a tummy ache.

Asthma can feel like a scary condition for your child to live with on a day-to-day basis, but there are lots of ways to manage it and help your child feel in control of their health. With thanks to Asthma UK for their advice on how to go about this.

My Family, Our Needs will also be running a competition tomorrow for parents to win two Joey Bags – colourful drawstring bags with a name tag so that children can carry their own inhalers and spacers together in a fun but convenient bag. They have kindly been given to My Family, Our Needs by Henleys Medical.

Make sure you pop back tomorrow for a chance to win!

Useful Links

Asthma UK has a  dedicated section for parents, packed with information on how asthma is diagnosed, advice to soothe common concerns about medicines, tips on family life, real stories from parents – and much more.

It also has a helpline where you can speak to an asthma nurse expert.
Tel: 0300 222 5800 Monday – Friday, 9.00am to 5.00pm

NHS Choices
Covers all aspects of the condition and real-life stories from people who have asthma themselves.