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What is asthma?

It’s a very common condition that we’re all aware of but you may not know what asthma actually is. It’s a condition that affects the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. If you or your child has asthma, it means these airways are more sensitive than normal and can become inflamed when brought into contact with an irritant – referred to more commonly as a trigger.

Inflammation of the airways causes wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and an increase in sticky mucus.

In the UK, around 5.4 million people have asthma. It’s worth noting though that the severity of asthma varies from person to person and for the vast majority, it can be controlled well. In addition, once you know what the triggers are, you can actively avoid them where possible.

What causes asthma?

Unfortunately the cause of asthma is still unknown but lots of common factors have been identified. A child is more likely to develop asthma is one or both parents have it and there are many common triggers to be aware of including dust mites, animal fur, tobacco smoke, cold air and infections. Exercise can be a trigger but this doesn’t mean it should be avoided, it just means you need to be aware and manage the symptoms accordingly.

Everyone’s triggers are different though so this isn’t an exhaustive list and exposure to these things won’t guarantee asthma – in order to react, you would need to already have a predisposition to asthma symptoms.

Children are also more likely to develop asthma if there is a family history of other allergic conditions such as eczema, hay fever and food allergy. If your baby is born prematurely and/or had low birth weight (less than 4.5lb) or if your child is exposed to tobacco smoke and if the mother smoked during pregnancy then this also creates a risk.

Does my child have asthma?

It can be a worrying time if you suspect your child has asthma however doctors are usually reluctant to diagnose very young children. This is often because very young children who exhibit symptoms can often grow out of them. This doesn’t mean that the symptoms at the time won’t be treated though; many parents are given inhalers even though an official diagnosis isn’t made because the symptoms are real, they just may not be long term. Symptoms should then be reviewed on a regular basis until they diminish or until an official diagnosis can be made.


Symptoms to look out for include breathlessness, a tight chest, wheezing (sometimes accompanied with a whistling noise), coughing particularly at night or in the morning or any of these symptoms in conjunction with common allergens and triggers. Unless your child is old enough to vocalise when they feel these things then you’ll need look out for them, especially if you know (through the common factors mentioned earlier in the article) that your little one is potentially higher risk.

Treating asthma

Asthma cannot be cured although children often grow out of it. In the meantime, treatment is based on keeping it under control and for most children this allows them to lead completely normal lives.

There’s no single way to treat asthma; treatment is tailored to the individual symptoms and needs of the patient. Depending on triggers (e.g. seasonal triggers such as pollen or cold air), medication may need to be increased or decreased at different times but this is all very normal.

Your GP will show you how to use the medication and you should also ensure that anyone else who cares for your child (e.g. school or nursery) is shown too. Label all medication with their name and even a contact number in case of emergencies. Your GP will also explain to you what to in case of an asthma attack – this is a sudden and severe onset of symptoms which can sometimes be managed at home but in some cases require hospital treatment.

Making treatment fun

For very young children, asking them to sit still to puff on an inhaler isn’t always easy! My stepson Max uses a preventative inhaler which involves one puff, followed by 30 seconds break then a second puff. We often do the first one followed by ‘the 30 second dance’ or if he’s in the right mood, we’ll count to 30 together. We were lucky in that he didn’t protest even when it was a new thing but now it’s just part of the routine so he doesn’t even question it. If your little one finds it difficult then I think the key is to find a way to make it more interesting – somehow I think ‘fun’ is the wrong word because we wouldn’t want them to think it’s a game as such but giving them plenty of praise once it’s done also helps.

My partner also has asthma so it’s all part of the norm in our house but that’s no reason to become complacent with it. He always keeps his appointments with the asthma nurse, even if he’s not having issues because it’s all part of his regular review to make sure it stays under control and this is essentially the key to managing asthma.



About Celyn Parry

About Celyn Parry

Celyn Parry has 12 years experience working with a leading children’s retailer but is now focusing on her passion for writing. With many years spent on the shop floor listening to parents, she prides herself on creating down to earth articles with a dash of humour and personal insight. As Step-Mum to adorable chatterbox Max, it’s a bit of a juggling act but it certainly keeps things interesting!

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