Learn About Asthma & How to Spot the Symptoms in Your Child
The leaders in respiratory health knowledge, the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation, teach us what asthma is, what it feels like and how to recognise it in your child
Reading Time: 3.5 minutes
Asthma is a common illness of the respiratory system. In New Zealand, one child in seven needs to take medicine for asthma.
The respiratory system is the system through which we breathe. We breathe in to bring oxygen into our bodies, and we breathe out to remove carbon dioxide. The respiratory system includes the nose, mouth, lungs, and a set of airways.
The largest airway is the windpipe, which connects the lungs to the nose and mouth. There are more airways inside the lungs. The airways are also called breathing tubes.
So, what is asthma?
People with asthma have sensitive airways. Your child’s sensitive airways may be irritated by a trigger in the environment (such as pollen), by an illness, or by an emotion (such as anxiety). The irritation makes your child’s airways swell up so that it becomes difficult to breathe.
What are the symptoms?
It’s important to know the symptoms of asthma. Asthma can usually be quickly managed, but it is dangerous if it is just left.
Asthma has four main symptoms:
- a tight feeling in the chest
Wheezing is a whistling sound that people make when they are trying to breathe through airways that are narrower than usual. It is often louder when trying to breathe out
In an asthma attack, these symptoms get worse, so the person finds it difficult to breathe. Some people say it feels like they have something heavy on their chest or it feels tight. It can be so hard to breathe that it becomes painful.
How can I spot asthma in my child?
Very young children can’t tell people how they’re feeling. They need other people to keep an eye out and notice when symptoms start to appear.
You might notice that your child is getting tired because their difficulty in breathing makes it hard to sleep. In a more severe case, you might see your child’s chest and sides pulling in.
With an older child, you can ask how they’re feeling and help them to watch out for asthma symptoms for themselves.
Your doctor may give you a symptom diary. You and the doctor can use this diary to keep track of what is happening and understand the patterns in your child’s symptoms.
What does asthma feel like for my child?
To get an idea of how asthma feels for your child, try breathing in and out through a straw. First, do it normally. Then pinch the straw’s end and keep trying to breathe in and out. You will start to feel short of breath and you may feel tightness in your chest.
If you don’t have a straw, try blowing air through an open fist. Then gradually close your fist, still trying to blow through it. Imagine how tiring this would feel!
What happens in an asthma attack?
Most people can keep their asthma under control for most of the time. You can teach your child to notice the signs of asthma and what to do to stop having a full asthma attack or ‘flare-up’.
Knowledge is power and you can use this power to help prevent your child from having an asthma attack. You need to know your child’s body, know what triggers your child’s asthma, and make sure your child always takes their medicine.