Everyone with asthma should have a reliever inhaler. Reliever inhalers are usually blue. Relievers are medicines that children can take immediately when asthma symptoms appear. They quickly relax the muscles surrounding the narrowed airways. This allows the airways to open wider, making it easier to breathe again.
- Relievers are essential in treating asthma attacks. Your child should take a dose of reliever inhaler when they start having asthma symptoms.
- Children with asthma need to keep their reliever inhalers with them or close at hand at all times. You may never know when they might need it.
- If your child is using their reliever inhaler three or more times a week, it could mean their asthma is not controlled properly. Ask your doctor or asthma nurse to review your child's asthma.
Not all relievers work well for all children under one year old. Your doctor will probably try different relievers to find the one that works best for your child.
Preventers protect the lining of the airways. Preventer inhalers are usually brown, red or white.
They help to calm down the swelling in the airways and stop them from being so sensitive. This means that your child is less likely to react badly when she/he comes across an asthma trigger. However, not all children and young people will need a preventer inhaler.
Preventer inhalers are usually prescribed for children and young people using their reliever inhaler three or more times a week.
Most children or young people who need preventer medicines will receive a preventer inhaler from their doctor or asthma nurse that contains inhaled steroids. There are several kinds of inhaled steroids, but they all work in the same way.
- Preventers reduce the risk of severe attacks.
- Their protective effect builds up over a period of time, so they need to be taken every day, usually morning and evening, even if your child is feeling well.
- When your child first starts using them, it may take up to 14 days before you notice any improvement in asthma symptoms.
- They are usually recommended if your child needs to use a reliever more than once a day on a regular basis.
What is a spacer?
Spacers are a useful way of ensuring children, especially young children, take the whole dose of medicine that is delivered through an inhaler.
In addition to relievers and preventers, other types of asthma medicine are also available. These include long-acting relievers and non-steroidal preventer tablets. These are usually used in addition to inhaled preventers.
A short course of steroid tablets (usually three to five days) is sometimes needed to treat a child's asthma after an asthma attack. They are very effective at bringing severe asthma symptoms under control quickly.
Your child should not experience any side effects from an occasional course of steroid tablets.
Are there any side effects to my child's asthma medicines?
Relievers are a very safe and effective medicine and have very few side effects. Your child cannot overdose on reliever medicine. Some relievers can temporarily increase your child's heartbeat, give them mild muscle shakes or make your child a bit hyperactive but this is usually when relievers are given in high doses or as a syrup. These side effects generally wear off within a few minutes or hours at most.
The possibility of side effects from taking inhaled preventer medicine is very low. This is because the inhaled medicine goes straight down to the airways where it is needed. Preventer medicines can lower the body's resistance to chickenpox (see the steroid tablet section below). Talk to your doctor or asthma nurse about any concerns you have about the side effects of your asthma medicines.
If your child uses preventer medicine there is a small risk of them having a sore tongue or throat, hoarseness of the voice and a mouth infection called thrush. To help prevent these side effects, ensure your child rinses their mouth out and brushes their teeth after using their preventer inhaler. Using a spacer will also help reduce the possibility of thrush.
Your child's doctor or asthma nurse should monitor your child closely if they are taking preventer medicines - especially for growth.
It is possible that long-term and high-dose use of preventer medicines (inhaled steroids) may cause some other side effects (see 'Side effects of long-term use of steroid tablets'). That is why your child's doctor or asthma nurse will try to keep your child on the lowest dose to control their symptoms.
Talk to your doctor or asthma nurse about any concerns you have about the side effects of your asthma treatment.
Some children or young people with asthma will need to use an occasional short course of steroid tablets (1-5 days) to bring severe asthma symptoms under control.
- For some children this can lower the body's resistance to chickenpox. If your child has had a short course of steroid tablets in the previous three months and comes into contact with chickenpox, go and see your doctor. If your doctor thinks your child is at risk from chicken pox they can give your child an injection to protect them.
- The other possible side effects from taking a short course of steroid tablets are mood swings and increased hunger.