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Asthma: symptoms

0-18 years

Wheezing, coughing and breathing difficulties can all be signs of asthma – but asthma symptoms can also be vague. For example, if your child’s asthma is playing up, you might notice only a difference in his general wellbeing.

Asthma symptoms: wheezing

An asthma wheeze can vary from mild to severe. Some people say it sounds like a whistle.

Sometimes you’ll be able to hear your child’s wheeze easily, usually when she’s breathing out.

Asthma wheezing is typically worse first thing in the morning or at night when the air is cooler. Other times you’ll hear a wheeze after your child has done some exercise.

Sometimes your child might seem to be breathing normally and quietly, but your doctor will hear signs of airway narrowing by listening to your child’s chest with a stethoscope.

Asthma symptoms: coughing

Asthma coughing can vary from mild to severe.

You’re more likely to hear the cough at night, after your child has done some exercise, or when the weather is cold.

Sometimes your child might have a restless sleep or wake during the night because of the cough. Sometimes coughing, especially at night, is the only sign that your child has asthma.

The cough might also stop your child from doing sport or other physical activity at school.

The severity and frequency of asthma symptoms vary a lot. Some children wheeze or cough only a few times a year when they have a cold, whereas others (a small minority) might have some asthma symptoms every day.

When to see your doctor about asthma symptoms

Your child should see your doctor if:

  • his wheezing, cough or shortness of breath doesn’t go away or gets worse despite medication
  • he needs to use his inhaler more often than every 3-4 hours
  • 2-6 puffs of the inhaler don’t help to make your child better immediately
  • he can’t exercise or play normally, or can’t keep up with other children
  • his sleep is disturbed because of coughing or wheezing
  • he needs to use his inhaler more frequently or there has been a change in his symptoms
  • your child needs medication as soon as he wakes up in the morning, or can’t wait until after breakfast
  • you don’t have a clear asthma control and management plan for your child.

Your child’s doctor will take a very careful history of how bad your child’s symptoms are and how often she has them, because your child’s asthma control and management plan will depend on these factors.

Your doctor should regularly review your child’s asthma control and management plan.

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Last updated or reviewed
10-05-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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