Signs of Asthma in Children


Catherine Spader, RN

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Girl Using an Inhaler

Kids just want to run and play, but asthma can stop them in their tracks. The signs and symptoms of asthma in children can be subtle and mimic other diseases, especially in infants and toddlers. Knowing what to look for is the best way to get early treatment for asthma so your child can stay active without losing a step.

Does My Child Have Asthma?

It’s not always obvious when a child develops asthma. Not all children have typical symptoms, such as wheezing, a "whistling" noise that occurs while breathing. The following signs and symptoms can occur with other conditions but might also indicate that your child has asthma:

  • Coughing spells that worsen at night or with a cold, flu, exercise, or exposure to cold air

  • Dark circles under their eyes

  • Frequent headaches

  • Tiring easily or getting winded during or after exercise or play

  • Panting with normal activities

  • Poor feeding in infants or toddlers or poor appetite in older children

  • Repeated respiratory infections such as bronchitis

  • Unusual drowsiness or sluggishness

  • Weak or soft cry in infants or toddlers

If your child has one or more of these symptoms contact your doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis.

What Are the Early Symptoms of an Asthma Attack in My Child?

If your child has already been diagnosed with asthma, it is important to quickly recognize the signs and symptoms and start prompt treatment. Early treatment can reduce the severity of asthma attacks and decrease the risk of permanent lung damage.

Early signs of an asthma flare-up or attack are often vague. Your child may have the following symptoms every day or just once in a while:

  • Anxiety, restlessness, or an uneasy feeling

  • Frequent coughing, especially at night or after exercise or being outdoors

  • Fussiness or irritable mood

  • Symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection, such as runny nose, sore throat, or cough

  • Tired and disinterested in play and normal activities

  • Trouble sleeping

What Are the Signs That My Child’s Asthma Is Worsening?

A severe asthma attack can be scary and unsettling to both you and your child. Symptoms that your child’s asthma is progressing into a potentially serious attack include:

  • Blue, pale or grey coloring in their face, lips or fingernails

  • Chest tightness. Your child feel pain or that they can’t take a full breath.

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Does not recognize you or other familiar people

  • Flared nostrils

  • Increasing anxiety and restlessness

  • Need to sit upright

  • Persistent cough

  • Rapid breathing, shortness of breath, or wheezing

  • Sweating

  • Tightening of the skin and muscles in their neck, chest or stomach in a way that makes them retract or appear to pull in when breathing

If your child’s symptoms do not respond rapidly to their prescribed home treatment, contact your child’s healthcare provider immediately or call 911.
If you are unsure about your child's symptoms, or feel they are becoming worse even though you are following the prescribed asthma action plan, tell your child's healthcare provider. Your child's medicine may need to be changed or adjusted.