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For parents of children with asthma

With the right support, treatment and education, you can help your child manage their asthma. Here is some information on how children are diagnosed and treated and resources that will help you and your child.

Because younger children may not be able to describe how they are feeling, it can be difficult to determine if they are experiencing asthma symptoms. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, it could be a sign of asthma:

  • Not being able to keep up with other children while running around
  • Having a hard time catching their breath or breathing faster than other children who are doing the same activity
  • Coughing
  • Coughing so hard that they vomit
  • Wheezing (high pitched whistling sound) when they breathe
  • Waking up at night with asthma symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness)

If you notice any of these symptoms, visit your child’s healthcare provider to find out if it is due to asthma.

Diagnosing asthma in young children

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a child has asthma or another childhood condition because the symptoms can be similar. Not all young children who wheeze when they get colds or respiratory infections develop asthma. The wheezing may happen when a child’s small airways get inflamed by a viral infection. A lung function test called “spirometry” is very helpful in diagnosing asthma. However, young children are not able to do this test until they are about 6 years old.

A young child is more likely to have asthma if the child:

  • Has regular asthma symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, excess mucus or wheezing (wheezing is best checked by a healthcare professional using a stethoscope)
  • Regularly coughs during sleep, after being exposed to allergens, after physical activity or after laughing or crying
  • Has other family member(s) who have asthma.
  • Has other allergic conditions such as eczema or food allergies
  • Has asthma symptoms that improve after taking asthma medications

If your child is diagnosed with asthma, this guide will help explain the basics of childhood asthma and asthma management.

Learning self-management

With help, children can learn to manage their asthma and make healthy choices. School-age children can learn how to detect the warning signs of asthma, avoid their triggers and how to use their medications. Talk to your healthcare provider and your child about setting goals for self-management.

If you feel your child understands when and why they need to use their reliever inhaler, your child can carry their own reliever inhaler. In 2015, Ontario passed Ryan’s Law, which allows children with asthma to carry asthma inhalers at school with permission from their parent/guardian.

Teens and asthma

The desire for independence can make it difficult for teens managing asthma. Even if they have been reliably managing their asthma, a teenager may start to have more symptoms. This could be caused by hormonal changes or attitude and behavioural changes.

Teens are sensitive about things that make them different from their friends or may be nervous about taking medication in public. Talk to your teen about these feelings and discuss any issues together with their healthcare provider.

If your teen starts to smoke or is around friends who are smoking, this can cause sudden and severe asthma attacks. The Lung Association-Ontario’s N-O-T on Tobacco (N-O-T) program is a voluntary youth tobacco cessation program created specifically for young people (aged 14-19) who want to quit. They can also get information and counselling by calling the Lung Health Information Line at 1-888-344-LUNG (5864).

Asthma at school

With good asthma control, your child should not miss school or daycare and should be able to participate in physical activities. Regular, clear communication with the school or daycare can help your child maintain good asthma control. Learn more about how to communicate with teachers and caregivers.

Find other helpful resources on asthma in children.