Symptoms of Asthma in Children

We recommend all symptoms of asthma in children such as cough, wheeze, breathlessness, and complaints of chest pain be reviewed by your doctor. Your doctor will determine their cause, and the right course of action for your child.  

Here is some more information about the common signs of asthma. 


Cough can be caused by many things, and there are many types of cough. The presence of persistent cough, or one that continues during the night or early morning, irrespective of the sound it makes, would warrant further investigation and the consideration of asthma as a diagnosis. 

For more about cough in children, visit this website.


Wheeze is a high-pitched whistling sound made by the airways when they are narrowing. It is often heard by the doctor as they listen to your child’s breathing using a stethoscopeIt can also be heard by parents and non-medical people without special equipment. 

Wheeze can be caused by a number of things, including asthma. When heard, the child should be taken to their doctor to investigate further. 

Read more about wheeze in children under 6 here

Difficulty Breathing

Identifying that a child is finding it difficult to breathe can be hard to detect. Frequently it can be the only sign that a child is having trouble with their breathing. 

As with all of these signs of asthma, you don’t have to see all of them to have asthma or feel justified in seeking medical help. 

Difficulty breathing can be reported – the child says they can’t breathe properly – or it can be seen when you notice that the child is breathing faster or deeper or more laboured than normal. Any sign of breathing difficulty should result in a visit to the doctor for review and management.

Occasionally, people with asthma experience silent symptoms of asthma. This is where the signs of the tightening of the airways don’t result in the sounds of wheezing and coughing that are more familiar to us. 

In these cases, descriptions of difficulty breathing are more relevant for this child. It’s important to work with your doctor to recognise when you, or someone you care for, experience silent asthma symptoms. 

You should let people around you (school or daycare staff, work colleagues, family, and friends) know that you experience silent asthma symptoms so they can respond and support you when you need it. 

Signs of breathing difficulty which could indicate an emergency include: 

  • Distress, irritability, restlessness more than usual 
  • Fatigue and listlessness 
  • Deep sucking movements in their chest and throat when they try to breathe 
  • For all children, especially the younger ones, look at the gap at the bottom of their neck, where it meets the breast bone. When that area appears to be sucking in an out during breathing, this is a sign of difficulty breathing. Same for the spaces between the ribs, when they are appearing such in and out, this is a sign of breathing difficulty 
  • Inability of the child to finish their sentences when talking due to breathlessness 

In most situations where a child is experiencing breathing difficulties, they should be seen by a doctor urgently. 

Chest Tightness 

Chest pain and chest tightness occur when the narrowing airways make it difficult to get the air in. This makes the chest feel tight. It can be uncommon to hear young children use the word “tightness and chest”. They might otherwise say sore tummy” or “feeling sick”.