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Asthma Attacks in Kids

How to Handle A Child's Asthma Attack

By Carol Sorgen

Updated March 06, 2008

(LifeWire) - Asthma is the most common chronic childhood illness, affecting nearly 5 million kids under the age of 18 in the United States. Repeated asthma attacks cannot only interfere with a child's school and play activities, but they can result in trips to the ER when breathing problems get out of control.

While the goal is to avoid trips to the ER, it is also important to find out from the doctor when emergency care is necessary. The doctor should include specific instructions and guidelines, such as peak flow meter readings, in the child's asthma action plan. Once your child is old enough to understand the disease, teach him or her to recognize these symptoms as well. A child who is suffering from any of the following asthma symptoms may need medical help as soon as possible:

  • difficulty speaking
  • repeated use of rescue medications without relief of symptoms
  • visible retractions when the child breathes (you're able to see the space between the child's ribs and/or at the base of the neck retract as he inhales)
  • bluish or gray lips and/or fingernails

Managing a child's asthma so that it is well-controlled may mean fewer trips to the ER. These tips can help you control your child's asthma so that it doesn't interfere with his or her daily activities:

  • Follow the Asthma Action Plan
    The doctor should provide a written action plan that includes information on the child's daily treatment, as well as what asthma symptoms to be on the lookout for and what to do when the child has an asthma attack.

  • Include the Child
    Make sure he or she understands what the asthma action plan is and why it's important to follow it. Help the child understand that not following the plan could result in a flare-up of asthma symptoms and emergency care.

  • Know the Signs of an Asthma Attack
    Coughing, clearing of the throat, breathing difficulties and chest tightness are all signs of an asthma attack in kids. However, hyperactivity, fatigue and sleep disturbances are too. Not every flare-up is the same and your child may react differently than you do, if you also have asthma. Some children cough at night; others cough after exercise. Become familiar with your child's asthma and note what he or she is doing just before an attack. Using a peak flow meter at home can help determine whether a flare-up is imminent. The doctor can provide information on monitoring the range of readings.

  • Avoid Common Asthma Triggers
    These include dust, pets, mold, cold air, smoke, physical activity and infections.

  • Make Sure Your Child Has Rescue Medications Handy
    Be sure to inform all teachers, coaches, friends and babysitters of the signs of an asthma attack, the child's asthma action plan, and the proper use of rescue medications. Also note: Kids do have the "right to carry" their rescue inhaler in most states and most school districts now.

  • Teach Your Child the Importance Controller Medications
    This is important, even if he or she is not experiencing any asthma symptoms. When medications are not taken as prescribed, asthma triggers can cause inflammation of the lungs, which reduces lung function and increases the possibility of attacks. Be sure that all caretakers are also well informed of the child's asthma action plan as it pertains to controller medications.

  • Establish a Trusting Relationship With Your Child's Doctor
    Call him or her when symptoms of a flare-up appear. The doctor can help keep the symptoms from becoming worse and may be able to help your child avoid a trip to the hospital.

Steps to Take in an Emergency

Even when asthma is well-managed, there are times when a trip to the hospital may be unavoidable. Planning ahead for such an emergency can be helpful.

  • Know where the nearest emergency room is and find out if there is a pediatric ER. List the address and phone number of the hospital's ER in the child's action plan.

  • Should you need to go to the ER, take along a copy of the child's asthma action plan, or a note with the names and dosages of any medications the child is currently taking.

  • Arrange for a family member or friend to babysit other children in an emergency. But even if no one is available, don't put off going to the ER.


Childhood Asthma: What You Should Know About Childhood Asthma. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 2 Nov. 2007

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Carol Sorgen is a freelance writer in Baltimore, MD, who writes frequently on health and wellness issues for such publications as WebMD, Today's Diet & Nutrition, The Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.

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