Updated 17 November 2017

Can your child spot the signs of an asthma attack?

Teach your child how to spot someone on the playground having an asthma attack. This could potentially save a life.

Children are not always that observant of changes in other children’s behaviour, especially when they are playing.

But teaching your child how to identify someone having an asthma attack can potentially help save a life. Use these tips to know when to spot an asthma attack.

According to a previous Health24 article, South Africa has the world’s fourth highest asthma death rate among five- to 35-year-olds. Of the estimated 3.9 million South Africans with asthma, 1.5% die as a result of this condition every year.

Here are tips on how your child can spot a friend having a potential asthma attack on the playground and what to do in such a case. 

How to explain asthma to your child

Asthma is when someone struggles to breathe. This happens when the airways in the lungs swell up, become narrower and fill up with mucus. A child with asthma is not necessarily always ill, but an asthma attack can be deadly if not treated. Act quickly if you suspect that someone at your school is having an asthma attack.  

How to recognise an asthma attack

The following are initial symptoms of an asthma attack. Tell your child to act quickly if he or she spots the following symptoms in another child:

1. Coughing and wheezing (making a whistling sound).

boy coughing at school

2. Struggling to breathe, gasping for breath, going blue in the face.

girl struggling to breathe

3. Struggling to walk, talk or play, wanting to sit down, feeling faint.

tired boy

4. Looking pale and sweaty, almost like someone who's going to be sick or feels nauseous.

pale child

5. Complaining of chest pain or a tight feeling in the chest.

girl with chest pain

What to do when you spot someone having asthma attack

Tell your child to do the following as soon as they see someone with the above symptoms.

  • Call a teacher immediately.
  • Let the person sit up straight.
  • Try to keep them calm.
  • Remove them from a crowded playground.
  • Inform the teacher what is happening and request medical help.
  • Let the person take a puff of their inhaler. If this is not working, it’s important to call an ambulance or medical assistance as quickly as possible.

How you can prepare as a parent 

The Asthma Organisation UK has the following guidelines for parents to be more at ease when sending children with asthma to school for the first time.

  • Get to know your child’s teachers and know who will be in charge during break time.
  • Pack their inhaler and medication and notify the teacher.
  • Consult their teacher and the school nurse beforehand and talk to them about your child’s asthma.
  • Make sure teachers have your contact details in case of emergency.
  • Make sure your child understands the signs of an asthma attack and when to alert the teacher. 

Visit your doctor before your child starts school to get an updated review on their condition and medication if necessary. 

Image credits: iStock


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Asthma Expert

Professor Keertan Dheda has received of several prestigious awards including the 2014 Oppenheimer Award, and has published over 160 peer-reviewed papers and holds 3 patents related to new TB diagnostic or infection control technologies. He serves on the editorial board of the journals PLoS One, the International Journal of Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine, Lancet Respiratory Diseases and Nature Scientific Reports, amongst others.Read his full biography at the University of Cape Town Lung Institute

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