By Raising Children Network
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Wheezing, coughing and difficulties with breathing can all be signs of asthma – but the symptoms can be vague. Sometimes you might only notice a difference in your child’s general wellbeing after treatment.


An asthma wheeze can vary from mild to severe. Some people describe it as sounding like a whistle. You can often easily hear an asthma wheeze, and are more likely to hear it when your child’s breathing out. It’s often worse in the early morning or at night.

Sometimes your child might seem to be breathing normally and quietly, but your doctor will hear signs of airway narrowing by listening to your child’s chest with a stethoscope.


Coughing associated with asthma can vary from mild to severe. You’re more likely to hear the cough at night, after physical exertion, or when the weather’s cold. Sometimes the cough results in restless sleep, causing your child to wake during the night. The cough might also prevent your child participating in sporting activities at school.

Sometimes coughing, especially at night, is the only sign that your child has asthma.

The severity and frequency of asthma varies a lot. Some children wheeze or cough only a few times a year in association with a cold, whereas others (a small minority) might experience some symptoms every day.

When to see your doctor

Your child should see your doctor if:

  • your child’s wheezing, cough or shortness of breath persists or becomes worse despite medication
  • your child needs to use her inhaler more often than every 3-4 hours
  • 1-2 puffs of the inhaler don’t make your child better immediately
  • your child can’t exercise or play normally, or can’t keep up with other children
  • your child’s sleep is disturbed because of coughing or wheezing
  • your child needs to use his inhaler more frequently
  • your child needs medication as soon as she wakes up in the morning, or can’t wait until after breakfast
  • you don’t have a clear asthma management plan for your child.

Your child’s doctor will take a very careful history of the frequency and severity of your child’s symptoms, because your child’s asthma treatment plan will depend on these factors.

  • Last updated or reviewed 08-07-2011