Controlling Asthma in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Asthma is a long-term condition that affects your child's breathing. It causes the airways that lead to the lungs to swell. During an asthma attack, the airways swell and narrow. This makes it hard to breathe. Your child may wheeze or cough. If your child has a bad attack, he or she may need emergency care.

There are two things to do to treat your child's asthma.

  • Control asthma over the long term.
  • Treat attacks when they occur.

You and your doctor can make an asthma action plan. It tells you what medicines your child needs to take every day to control asthma symptoms. And it tells you what to do if your child has an asthma attack. Following your child's asthma action plan can help prevent and treat attacks.

When you keep asthma under control, you can prevent severe attacks and lasting damage to your child's airways. You need to treat your child's asthma even when your child is not having symptoms. Although asthma is a lifelong disease, treatment can help control it and help your child stay healthy.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

To control asthma over the long term


Controller medicines manage swelling in your child's lungs. They also help prevent asthma attacks. Have your child take controller medicine exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.

  • Inhaled corticosteroid is a common and effective controller medicine. Help your child take it correctly to prevent or reduce most side effects.
  • Have your child take controller medicine every day, not just when he or she has symptoms. This helps prevent problems before they occur.
  • Your doctor may prescribe another medicine that your child uses along with the corticosteroid. This is often a long-acting bronchodilator. Do not have your child take this medicine by itself. Using a long-acting bronchodilator by itself can increase your child's risk of a severe or fatal asthma attack.
  • Your doctor may prescribe other medicines for daily control of asthma. An example is montelukast (Singulair).
  • Make sure your child has his or her asthma medicines when travelling.
  • Do not use inhaled corticosteroids or long-acting bronchodilators to stop an asthma attack that has already started. They do not work fast enough to help.


  • Try to learn what triggers your child's asthma attacks. Avoid these triggers when you can. Common triggers include colds, smoke, air pollution, dust, pollen, pets, cockroaches, stress, and cold air.
  • Check your child for asthma symptoms to know which step to follow in your child's action plan. Watch for things like coughing, wheezing, being short of breath, and chest tightness. Also notice if symptoms wake your child up at night or if he or she gets tired quickly during exercise.
  • If your child has a peak flow meter, use it to check how well your child is breathing. It can help you know when an asthma attack is going to occur and help you tell how bad an attack is. Then your child can take medicine to prevent the asthma attack or make it less severe.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around your child. Avoid smoky places.
  • Avoid colds and influenza (flu). Have your child get a pneumococcal and annual flu vaccine, if your doctor recommends them. Have your child wash his or her hands often to help avoid getting sick.
  • Talk to your child's doctor about whether to have your child tested for allergies.
  • Tell adults at school or daycare that your child has asthma. Give them a copy of the action plan. They can help during an attack.
  • If your child doesn't have an action plan, talk to your doctor about making one.

To treat attacks when they occur

Use your child's asthma action plan when your child has an attack. The quick-relief medicine will stop an asthma attack. It relaxes the muscles that get tight around the airways. If your doctor prescribed corticosteroid pills, give them to your child as directed. They may take hours to work, but they may shorten the attack and help your child breathe better.

  • Salbutamol is an effective quick-relief inhaler.
  • Have your child take quick-relief medicine exactly as prescribed.
  • Make sure your child has his or her asthma medicines when travelling.
  • Your child may need to use quick-relief medicine before exercise.
  • Call your doctor or nurse call line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child has severe trouble breathing. Signs may include the chest sinking in, using belly muscles to breathe, or nostrils flaring while your child is struggling to breathe.

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child is in the red zone of his or her asthma action plan.
  • Your child has new or worse trouble breathing.
  • Your child's coughing and wheezing get worse.
  • Your child coughs up dark brown or bloody mucus (sputum).
  • Your child has a new or higher fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child needs to use quick-relief medicine on more than 2 days a week (unless it is just for exercise).
  • Your child coughs more deeply or more often, especially if your child has more mucus or a change in the colour of the mucus.
  • Your child wakes up at night because of asthma symptoms.

Where can you learn more?

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