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Asthma in Children: Knowing How Bad an Attack Is

Overview

It can be hard to know if your child is having a mild, moderate, or severe asthma attack. The following chart may help you. Talk with a doctor if you can't tell how bad your child's symptoms are.

In most cases, you can take care of your child's symptoms at home by looking at your child's asthma action plan. The plan tells you what symptoms to watch for, which medicine your child needs to use, and when to call a doctor or seek emergency treatment.

Gauging the severity of your child's asthma attack

Factor

Mild attack

Moderate attack

Severe attack

Peak expiratory flow

80% to 100% of personal best

50% to 79% of personal best

Less than 50% of personal best

Breathing

Normal or slightly faster

Faster than normal

Rapid, and your child may appear preoccupied with breathing. He or she may want to sit upright to help with breathing.

Breath

Mild or no shortness of breath; can speak in full sentences

Short of breath; can speak in short phrases or parts of sentences

Very short of breath; speaks in single words or short phrases

Chest

Does not use or slightly uses chest muscles to breathe

Uses chest and neck muscles to breathe. The skin between, under, and above the ribs collapses inward with each breath.

Uses chest and neck muscles to breathe and may open nostrils wide; may clutch at the chest

Skin

Normal skin color

Pale skin color

Very pale or bluish skin color; may sweat more than normal

Wheezing

Wheezes while breathing out

Wheezes while breathing in and out

Does not wheeze while breathing. This means there may be little or no air in the airways.

Alertness

Normally alert

Normally alert

Not as alert as usual and may appear anxious

It is important to treat your child's asthma attacks quickly. If your child does not improve soon after treating an attack, talk with a doctor.

  • During attacks, stay calm and soothe your child. This may help your child relax and breathe more easily.
  • Don't underestimate or overestimate how bad your child's asthma is. It is often hard to know how much breathing difficulty a baby or small child is having. Seek medical care early for babies and small children who have asthma symptoms.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Lora J. Stewart MD - Allergy and Immunology

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