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Asthma Health Center

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Asthma in Children: Knowing How Bad an Attack Is - Topic Overview

It can be difficult to know whether your child is having a mild, moderate, or severe asthma attack. The following chart may help you. Talk with a doctor if you are unable to tell how severe your child's symptoms are.

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


Normal or slightly faster

Faster than normal

Rapid, and the child may appear preoccupied with breathing; may want to sit upright to help breathing


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


Does not 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


Normal skin color

Pale skin color

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


Wheezes while breathing out

Wheezes while breathing in and out

Does not wheeze while breathing. This indicates little or no air in the airways.


Normally alert

Normally alert

Not as alert as usual and may appear anxious

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: /2, 14 1
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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