Children with asthma have airways that narrow and can become clogged with mucus as a reaction to various triggers. This article provides a list of symptoms experienced by those with asthma and also strategies to help

When a child comes into contact with something which irritates their airways (a trigger), this sets off an attack and they find it difficult to breathe.

Triggers vary between individuals, but common triggers include:

  • viral infections such as colds or flu
  • allergens such as grass, pollen, animal fur and house dust mites
  • irritants such as cold air or tobacco smoke.

It is important that children themselves, as well as school staff, know what their individual triggers may be.

Exercise – particularly in cold, dry weather – and anxiety or stress can sometimes bring on attacks. Children with asthma are likely to have fewer attacks if they are fit, so they do need to be encouraged to take part in regular exercise. However the type, duration and strenuousness of exercise may need to be adapted to suit their particular condition.

Most children with asthma will have fewer symptoms as they grow older through their teenage years, but it can continue or return in adulthood.

Neither the asthma itself nor the medication should have any direct effect on the child’s learning and concentration. However, the anxiety caused by the asthma symptoms, the frequently interrupted sleep patterns and the severity of simple ailments when exacerbated by asthma can make the child very tired and may therefore affect their energy and concentration levels at school and when doing homework.

Key characteristics

Children with asthma may:

  • have difficulty in breathing, especially in breathing out
  • wheeze on breathing out
  • become breathless during or after exercise
  • have a persistent cough, with coughing fits during attacks
  • seem excessively tired or lethargic
  • complain of a tight chest or a tummy ache
  • turn blue around the lips in a severe attack
  • appear tired and listless if short of sleep
  • seem anxious prior to an attack
  • seem to suffer from more or worse colds and minor illnesses than most children.

During an attack you need to:

  • encourage them to breathe deeply and slowly
  • ensure that they are sitting rather than lying down
  • remain calm and encourage them to calm down and relax as much as possible
  • help them to relieve their symptoms with medication, using an inhaler, repeating after five minutes if it is not effective the first time
  • help younger children to use a spacer device
  • call an ambulance if the medication has no effect after five to ten minutes or if the child appears very distressed.

At all times you will need to:

  • ensure that all inhalers are marked with the child’s name and take them outside during PE sessions or other outdoor activities
  • give some leeway with homework deadlines if it has been a bad week
  • allow the child to stay inside during breaktimes on very cold days
  • help the child to avoid or minimise anxiety.
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