The most common asthma medicines come inside inhalers designed to take the medicines straight to your child’s lungs and airways.
Did you know? Using the right inhaler and spacer/facemask technique cuts your child’s risk of:
- Asthma symptoms
- A potentially life-threatening asthma attack
- Side-effects from their preventer inhaler, such as a sore throat or oral thrush. This is because more medicine gets down into the lungs where it’s needed rather than staying in their mouth or hitting the back of their throat where it’s no help at all.
If you feel confident about your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask technique, you can help them feel more confident too.
Watch our videos showing how to help your child use their inhaler.
If your child is going through a trial of treatment because they have suspected asthma, is newly diagnosed with asthma, has recently been given a new type of inhaler or has been taking the same asthma medicines for ages, it’s really important that you, and your child if they’re old enough, understand what inhalers your child needs to take, when they need to take them and why. If they do, they can get the full dose of their asthma medicines and stay well. Getting the full dose is important because it cuts your child’s risk of:
- asthma symptoms
- a potentially life-threatening asthma attack
What you need to know:
- There are lots of different types of inhalers and spacers that work in different ways.
- Most children with asthma are prescribed the two main types of asthma inhaler – a daily preventer inhaler to help protect their airways and cut the chance of triggers causing asthma symptoms and a reliever inhaler (usually blue) to use if they get symptoms.
- Most children with asthma are also given a spacer or facemask to use with their inhaler. You can read more about using spacers and facemasks here.
Your child’s GP, asthma nurse or respiratory consultant will explain which type(s) of inhaler they need and why, and exactly when they need to take them. If you have any questions or worries about your child’s medicines, you can:
- Take time to read our pages about asthma medicines for children
- Chat to one of our friendly asthma nurses on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 or via WhatsApp on 07373 606728 (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).
- Read the Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) that come inside the medicine boxes
- Make an appointment with your child’s GP or asthma nurse
- Ask a pharmacist to run through the information with you.
1. Check your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask technique
Helping your child use an inhaler and spacer/facemask might feel a bit daunting at first, especially if you don’t know anyone close to you with asthma.
A major report into asthma deaths in the UK found that 22% of people in the study had not been using their inhaler correctly. Getting your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask technique checked regularly is one of the most important things you can do to help your child stay well with their asthma.
Even if they’ve been using an inhaler for a while, it’s easy to slip into bad habits. Just a simple tweak might make a big difference to how much of the asthma medicine gets down into your child’s lungs where it’s needed to help prevent asthma symptoms and cut the risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack, and of side-effects.
It’s crucial to:
- Get your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask technique checked whenever they’re given a new asthma medicine or new type of inhaler, spacer or facemask
- Ask your GP or asthma nurse to check your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask technique at their asthma review every year.
You can also:
- Watch our useful inhaler technique videos in between appointments
- Ask a pharmacist to check your child’s inhaler technique when you next pick up your child’s asthma medicines
- Check out the useful tips below for helping babies, young children and older children use their inhalers.
These regular inhaler checks will help you feel reassured that you’re doing everything possible to help prevent asthma symptoms and cut your child’s risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
2. Check your child’s using the right inhaler and spacer/facemask
As your child gets bigger, the asthma inhaler(s) and spacer/facemask they need to use will change. Using the wrong device for their size and stage of development will mean they’re not getting the full dose of their asthma medicines. Getting the full dose is important because it cuts your child’s risk of:
- asthma symptoms
- a potentially life-threatening asthma attack
- side effects.
When you take your child for an asthma review every year, their GP or asthma nurse will check they’re using the right inhalers and spacer/facemask for their size and stage of development.
3. Know how to clean and store your child’s inhaler and spacer/facemask
Cleaning and storing your child’s inhalers and spacer/facemask properly will make sure they can work in the best way possible.
- Watch this video for top tips on cleaning your child’s inhalers
- Wash your child’s spacer at least once a month. Use washing-up liquid and leave it to air-dry without rinsing it. This helps prevent static making the medicnie cling to the sides of the spacer.
- Make sure your child’s spacer is replaced at least once a year – or sooner if it’s damaged in any way
- Always store your child’s inhalers with the cap on so nothing can get stuck in the mouthpiece
- Don’t leave your child’s inhaler where it might get too hot or too cold (in the car or conservatory, for example) because extreme temperatures can affect the way it works.
4. Get into a good routine with your child’s asthma medicines
The medicine in your child’s preventer inhaler cuts the risk of asthma symptoms and a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. The protection it gives your child’s lungs builds up over time. This means your child needs to take their preventer inhaler every day (usually morning and evening) even when they’re feeling well.
Try these top tips to help you get into a good routine:
- Ask your child to put a sticker on their toothbrush as a reminder. Research shows you’re more likely to remember to give your child their medicine every day if you link it to something they already do, such as brushing their teeth.
- Keep their inhaler and spacer/facemask on their bedside table to jog their memory when they wake up and just before bed.
- Set a reminder app on your phone or write yourself a note in your diary or in your calendar.
- Ask family or friends to remind you, especially if your child has only recently started using an asthma inhaler or when you’re out of your usual routine – on holiday, for example.
- Make it fun so that your child links taking their inhaler with something positive. Some parents have told us they’ve found it helpful to decorate their child’s inhaler or spacer with stickers, do a special handshake or fist bump after each time they take it or make doing a silly dance together part of the routine.
5. Make sure your child always has their blue reliever inhaler handy
Your child’s reliever inhaler (usually blue) gives them on-the-spot relief from asthma symptoms and asthma attacks, relaxing their airways very quickly. They need to keep their reliever inhaler with them all the time so they can use it as soon as you or they notice asthma symptoms. They should feel a difference to their breathing within a few minutes.
Try these top tips to make sure they can always get to a blue inhaler quickly:
- Get your child a special bag or rucksack to carry their reliever inhaler and spacer around, or a special box they can keep in their school bag
- Keep a reliever inhaler in their bedroom and somewhere downstairs – and make sure your child knows where they are
- Make sure your child keeps a spare reliever inhaler at nursery or school and anywhere they go often – at a grandparent’s house, for example.
Spacers with facemasks are for babies or younger children who find it hard to use a spacer with a mouthpiece.
If your child’s younger than one, they will probably use an orange spacer and mask. Around their first birthday, they will probably be given a slightly bigger yellow spacer and mask.
Your child’s GP or asthma nurse will show you the best way to give your baby their asthma medicines.You can watch our how-to video or read the transcript in between appointments.
“When the boys were really little and didn’t like putting the mask over their nose and mouth, we’d make it fun to stop them fussing. In between each puff of the inhaler, we’d count ‘one motorbike, two motorbike’, and we’d do the noises and actions in between – brum brum.” – Anna, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5
If your child is younger than five, they need to use a spacer with their inhaler. Watch our handy step-by-step video or read the transcript to see how you can help them.
They may need to use a spacer with a facemask until they’re ready to use a spacer with a mouthpiece. You can watch our how-to video or read the transcript to see what you need to do.
Your GP or asthma nurse will talk to you about which ones are right for your child at their asthma review every year.
“Most of the time Sami is okay taking his preventer inhaler. If he has the odd temper tantrum about taking it, it tends to be short-lived because he knows he can’t win. I’m really firm. He knows he has to take it whether he wants to or not. I do get frustrated, especially when we are in a hurry, but I have to stay calm, and tend to bribe him by saying, ‘You will not get a treat if you don’t take your inhaler’, and it usually works.” – Shakeela, mum to Sami, 6.
As your child gets older, it makes sense for them to continue to use a spacer because:
- Spacers make inhalers easier to use and more effective – they hold the medicine inside them so your child doesn't have to worry about pressing the inhaler and breathing in at exactly the same time.
- Spacers help to prevent possible side-effects, such as thrush and a sore throat.
“The boys both still use a spacer because they can’t grasp the proper breathing technique yet. I watch them taking their preventer inhaler every morning and evening.” – Shakeela, mum to Salis, 11, and Sami, 6
“Taking our preventer inhalers is part of the routine of life in our house. The boys don’t make a fuss about taking them because they both remember what it’s like to get asthma symptoms and understand that the medicine helps to prevent them feeling bad.” – Anna, mum to Gabriel, 10, and Beau, 5
Last updated May 2019
Next review due May 2022