The shortness of breath that characterizes an asthma attack can be frightening, but there's no need to panic if you're prepared. To help a wheezing child:
Give him his medication. Kids 3 and under usually get a nebulizer, which turns medicine into a fine mist that opens airways quickly. By 4 they can often use an inhaler, which propels medicine into the lungs.
Go to the emergency room immediately if you don't have medicine -- or if you use it and your child still can't catch his breath or is breathing really quickly. Also head to the ER if the reading on your child's peak flow meter warrants it. Once there, he'll be treated with a nebulizer that contains albuterol to open airways quickly and given steroids to help prevent another attack.
Follow up with your pediatrician to see what triggered your child's attack and to refine your plan for dealing with future ones. Attacks can recur, but next time you'll know what to do.
Learn how to identify an attack, even if your child hasn't been diagnosed yet. If your toddler or preschooler tends to wheeze, has trouble breathing when he gets a cold, has a persistent cough, or gets short of breath when he's running around, let your pediatrician know. He may prescribe a medication that can prevent an asthma attack.