Does your toddler have asthma?

How asthma is diagnosed and treated, and ways you can help prevent an asthma attack.


Does your toddler’s wheezy cold mean he’s got asthma? Not necessarily. While some toddlers will go on to have asthma, other toddlers will grow out of it as their airways develop.


Asthma affects the tubes that carry air to the lungs. A trigger – usually an infection, exercise, cold temperatures, smoke or pollen – will make these airways contract or become inflamed, causing swelling or mucus formation.

How is asthma diagnosed?

Diagnosing asthma in you toddler isn’t always easy. Tests to see how well her lungs are working are unreliable when your child’s under 6 years, and treatment may be tried to see if it helps.

Typically, if your toddler’s asthmatic, she’ll have had numerous chest infections and may wheeze, though she may only have a night-time cough.

Factors that may increase your toddler’s risk of having asthma include:

  • A family history of asthma, eczema or hay fever, as this suggests a tendency towards allergies
  • If your toddler’s a boy, as boys smaller airways
  • If your toddler was born prematurely, as prematurely born children have smaller airways
  • Having bronchiolitis (a viral lung infection) in her first year of life
  • If you smoked during your pregnancy

What will my doctor do if my toddler has asthma?

Medical treatment aims to relax muscle contraction (relievers) or reduce inflammation in the airways (preventers). These are often in the form of inhalers.

Relievers like Salbutamol are given if your toddler’s unwell, such as if she’s short of breath or wheezing.

Preventers are used to stop symptoms occurring. They’re usually started when your toddler’s using her reliever more than three times a week or is waking up once a week due to asthma, and can even be used when she’s well.

Using steroids to treat asthma

Steroids are used to treat asthma in two ways.

The usual first preventer is a steroid inhaler. This is used at the lowest dose possible and very little is absorbed. It’s unlikely to affect your toddler’s growth but her height should be monitored if she’s on high doses.

Steroid tablets are only used when your toddler’s quite unwell, in order to reduce inflammation quickly, and are normally only given for one or two weeks.

Mum’s story

“One month we went to hospital three times”

“My son, Henry, is 20 months old and has paediatric asthma. He’s always been a ‘happy wheezer’, but in September we had three visits to casualty in one month. It would start with a cough, and his breathing would get faster over a few days. He was diagnosed in November.

“We now manage his asthma with Salbutamol – up to 10 puffs four times a day when it’s bad, but some weeks we don’t use the puffer at all. We take the inhaler with us everywhere. We don’t know if he’ll grow out of it, but we’ve been told that because he has mild eczema and is allergic to cats, this might not be the case.”


Tessa, 37, mum to Henry, 20 months

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