Childhood Asthma

It ain’t easy, being wheezy:

Asthma is a very common health problem in children in Australia and the winter months are when symptoms will be at their peak.

Many children, especially babies and toddlers are affected by wheezing, the predominant symptom of asthma. During these episodes they will often require the same treatment as an asthmatic. However, many of these children will not grow up to be affected by asthma.

Wheezing can be triggered by common viruses such as those causing the common cold, cold weather, exercise, cigarette smoker, house dust and pollen.

The symptoms of asthma are cause by narrowing of the airways making it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs, which produces the wheezing sound. There also may be increased about of mucus which can add to the problems.

The main symptoms of asthma are

  • Wheezing- narrowing of the airways makes it harder for air to get in and out of the lungs, which produces the high pitched whistling sound, this can be worsened by increased amount of mucus.
  • Breathing difficulties – you might notice that your child is not as active or out of breath on minimal exertion or even at rest. You may also notice them breathing fast and working harder than usual to breath.
  • Chest tightness- this is a sensation caused by narrowed airways and the increased difficulty with airflow
  • Cough – not usually a problem alone, cough may be increased during an episode of asthma and worse and night, on exertion or in the cold.


These alone will usually last for 2-3 days and the GP will be able to help you manage your child’s symptoms.

Signs that asthma is more serious are

  • Struggling to breath and working hard with the chest muscles, you may notice sucking movements in the chest or throa
  • Becoming very distressed, appearing exhausted or even drowsy or limp


These suggest more severe asthma and your child will need urgent treatment in an emergency department and you should call an ambulance, who can initiate treatment.

Asthma treatment is predominantly through the use of inhalers. When you see your GP to formulate your child’s Asthma Action plan you should be trained in the use of inhalers and spacers. A spacer is a chamber in which the inhaler is squirted into while the child breathes it in from the other end. Your child may need to have Ventolin/ salbutamol every 2-4 hours while they are unwell to relieve their symptoms.

If your child is having an asthma attack, you can initiate simple measures at home. This is known as the 4 x4x4

  1. Sit them up and be calm
  2. Shake their blue/ reliever/ ventolin inhaler and give 4 separate puffs into the spacer, asking the child to take 4 breaths after each puff. Do this calmly and slowly so the child takes nice full breaths.
  3. Wait 4 minutes and repeat this.


If there is no improvement call an ambulance and states that your child is having an asthma emergency.

If your child’s symptoms worsen quickly, they are unable to talk, lips turn blue or they appear exhausted, call an ambulance immediately. You should continue to repeat the 4x4x4.

In the cases where the child appears well but is wheezy and you are not sure which health services to access, you can contact Our doctors can offer phone advice on first aid, direct you to an out of hours GP or medical centre or advise when you should take your child to hospital.