How to Recognize your Child’s Asthma Attacks

Asthma attacks can be scary!

This article will help you learn how to recognize your child’s asthma attacks early!

child with asthma attack
Learn the symptoms of your child’s asthma attacks! (pic source:

I’m continuing my series on Fall/Winter health with a few articles dedicated to helping solve a problem parents of asthmatic children fear:  an asthma attack!

This article, specifically, is to help all the parents whose kids who have asthma.  If you are an adult who has asthma, I recommend you read this article instead!

Also, my disclaimer:  If you are afraid your child is currently experiencing an asthma attack or they are having difficulty breathing, please take them to an urgent care or ER.  This article will be here when you get back and will help you in the future.


Do Asthma Attacks in your Child cause Fear

As a parent of an asthmatic child, you will be able to when I describe asthma attacks as the “fear in the back of your head whenever your child coughs, gets sick or says she’s short of breath.”

To you, an asthma attack feels like that small fear that never really goes away… and when it does, it doesn’t stay gone for long.

That fear is good!  It means that you are worried about your son or daughter!  But I also think that, with a little explanation, I can help you feel more comfortable with asthma attacks and together we can help quiet that fear.

To help you get the most out of this guide, I have links each section below.  You can also download the entire post here and save it for later.


Asthma Attacks in Children

  1. What does an asthma attack feel like?
  2. What is an asthma attack?
  3. What causes an asthma attack?
  4. Asthma attack symptoms
  5. What to do if your child is having signs of an asthma attack?



What does an asthma attack feel like?

This is a question that I often get and is very different depending on your child.  I’ll review a few different ways asthma attack may feel to your child.

  1. Rick has asthma that is well controlled unless he has a cold or flu, which causes a lot of coughing. Rick’s asthma attack feels like a cough that will never stop, that wakes him up at night and causes him to lose his breath.  As he keeps coughing, he seems to stay short of breath longer and longer and never “gets back to normal” until his asthma attack is fixed!
  1. Carol has asthma all the time but normally controlled on medications. Carol’s asthma attack feels like progressively worsening shortness of breath and wheezing that you can see is causing her to feel bad.  Her rescue inhalers help but tend to “wear off” sooner and sooner until you get her asthma attack fixed.
  1. Michonne is a pretty tough child who is usually healthy but when she gets sick, she gets sick fast. Her asthma is well controlled and when she gets a cold or flu, she seems to weather it well.  You almost don’t even know that she has asthma… until you find her very short of breath, unable to talk in complete sentences, perhaps with bluish lips.  She went from healthy to sick all at once!  She was unable to feel her asthma attack until she was very sick.  But will get better with good treatment.
  1. Daryl is a very athletic child and he likes to keep on going when everyone else stops. He has well-controlled exercise induced asthma but runs a lot, which is helpful in some situations such as when he is playing with his friends above.  For him, his asthma attack feels like he’s just a little more winded while playing sports.  Or needs to take breaks more often during activities.  He would seem to be fine to a stranger, but he seems “a little off” to you.  His asthma attack can also be treated easily and then he’ll be back in no time.


As you can see, it’s hard to create a single example of what an asthma attack feels like.  It is very different based on the situation and on your child.  But the good news is that after reading this article, you can better learn what your child’s asthma attack feels like so you can identify it sooner and get her the treatment she needs!

The key is to learn what YOUR CHILD’s personal asthma attack feels like so that you can better identify potential asthma attacks in the future.


What is an asthma attack?

Before discussing what is an asthma attack, let’s briefly review what is asthma.  Asthma itself is a problem with inflammation in the lungs causing swelling of the tissue, mucus production, and a muscle constriction pinching the airways.  You can read more about it here.

An asthma attack is usually brought on by a trigger causing a rapid increase in inflammation or mucus in the airway and/or a rapid and strong constriction of the muscles around the airway.  These two problems ultimately cause all the signs of an asthma attack (discussed below).

Ultimately, the problem is that once an asthma attack starts it often builds on itself and continues to progress until we, as parents or providers, do something to stop it.  This includes removing the trigger if possible (or waiting for it to pass if it’s a cold/URI) and adding asthma attack treatment.


What causes an asthma attack?

An asthma attack can “just happen” and this can happen if your asthma is not well controlled.  But more often than not, there is a specific cause of an asthma attack.  If we can take a moment to realize what trigger causes an asthma attack, then we can:

  • Remove the trigger (to help treat what caused the asthma attack)
  • Better identify the “at risk” triggers for our children
symptoms of child with asthma attack
Colds/flus are the top cause of asthma attacks (pic source:


The most common causes of an asthma attack are:

  • Colds / flus / respiratory infections
  • Seasonal or year round allergies
  • Exercise or cold air
  • Cigarette Smoke
  • Other smoke (camp fire, forest fire, fire place, etc)
  • Strong smells, odors, perfumes
  • Other airborne irritants or debris

There are also two major factors that contribute to the causes of an asthma attack:

  • Poorly controlled asthma
  • Forgetting asthma medication


The purpose of identifying what causes an asthma attack are so that you can remove the trigger from your child, helping them feel better and preventing future asthma attacks!


Any of these are potential causes of an asthma attack.  But for each child, there tends to be a few that are more often the cause than others.  So pay attention to what triggers your child’s asthma attacks so that you can better avoid them!

The side benefit of identifying causes of an asthma attack is that asthma attack is usually easier to treat when it first starts than when the asthma attack has had time to worsen.  Identifying your child’s triggers will help you recognize the early symptoms of your child’s asthma attack

Asthma Attack Symptoms

So I spent a lot of time going through some of more generic parts of an asthma attack and I did that for a reason:  most asthma attacks share some symptoms but each child’s asthma attack will be a little different.  I hope to have impressed upon you that it is more important to recognize your own son or daughter’s symptoms than just to go off a list of asthma attack symptoms.

As an allergist, I try to write down every patients’ asthma attack symptoms and save them in an easy to find block so that, if they every call with symptoms, I can quickly reference if their symptoms are the same as their asthma attack symptoms.  I would like you to do the same.

To help, I have created a list of the most common asthma attack symptoms your child may experience.

General asthma attack symptoms

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficult catching their breath
  • Chest tightness or constriction
  • Coughing (particularly coughing that wakes them up at night)
  • Coughing a lot of mucus from the lungs
  • Decreased exercise tolerance or needing to take more breaks
  • Feeling like “can’t take a full breath”

Associated asthma attack symptoms

These symptoms are often associated with an asthma attack but are not only found in an asthma attack.  By themselves, these may not mean asthma attack but if you see this as well as some from the other list, then an asthma attack is more likely.

  • Fatigue, tiredness
  • Lethargy
  • Feeling weak
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Increased agitation or anxiety

Emergency asthma attack symptoms

I’m writing an entire post about the emergency asthma attack symptoms but didn’t want to ignore this topic.  So here is an overview of some of the warning signs and symptoms that usually mean you need to go to the ER/Urgent Care:

(Note:  this is not an exhaustive list.  If you get that feeling like you need to go to the ER, please go!  A parent’s intuition is not something to be ignored)!

  • Confusion or decreased consciousness
  • Inability to talk in complete sentences
  • Visible use of neck muscles to help breathe
  • Blue fingers or lips
  • Decreased oxygen saturation (if you have an oxygen sensor)


Also, beware if your child was having a hard time breathing or loud wheezing and then started to get better… sometimes that means their muscles can’t keep up and they are going into respiratory failure!

This is not an exhaustive list of warning signs and symptoms, but it covers a lot of the major asthma attack symptoms.

Boy with asthma attack
Recognizing your child’s unique asthma attack symptoms is the BEST way to prevent them! (pic source:


What to do if your child is having signs of an asthma attack?

If your child is having any of the signs of an asthma attack that I reviewed above, then you need to get them treatment!

I’m writing a full post about how to treat an asthma attack.  For now, I recommend you see your primary care provider.  (Note:  if you’re having signs of an asthma attack emergency, please go to the urgent care/ER).

As always, if you have any questions, please send me an email or leave a message on my Facebook and I’ll try to help as much as possible.


Final Thoughts

An asthma attack can be very scary for you, as the parent, as well as for your child.  But the silver lining is that once you familiarize yourself what is an asthma attack, the causes of asthma attacks and the general signs of an asthma attack you can start to see the pattern develop in your child.

But once you recognize their personal pattern, you can start to either prevent asthma attacks OR catch them when they first start!

And THEN you can relieve some of the fear from yourself and also keep your child happy and healthy.

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