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Your Child’s Asthma: Medicines

Medicines are an important part of managing asthma. Ask your child’s healthcare provider about your child’s asthma medicines. Find out how they work, how they’re taken, and what their possible side effects are. It's very important that you make sure your child is using the inhaler correctly. And that you use a spacer when the provider advises. Both practices will increase the amount of medicine getting to your child's lungs. There are 2 types of asthma medicines:

  • Long-term controller (maintenance) medicines. These medicines reduce inflammation and prevent narrowing of the airways. A child with asthma can have inflamed airways at any time, not just when they have symptoms. So, controller medicines are taken daily, even when the child feels well. This helps keep asthma symptoms from getting worse and prevents flare-ups.

  • Quick-relief (rescue) medicines. These help stop symptoms from getting worse and flare-ups once they have started.

Your child's medicines are a vital part of your child's Asthma Action Plan. If you don’t have an action plan, talk with your child’s healthcare provider about getting one. If you do have one, review it with the provider to be sure it's up to date.

Man helping girl use metered-dose inhaler with spacer and mask.
Teach your child which medications to use and when to use them.

For long-term control

Controller medicines reduce the chance that a child will have to go to the emergency room or need to stay in the hospital. Many kids with asthma take long-term controller medicine. Be aware that:

  • These medicines are not used to reduce symptoms right away. Other medicines are used for quick relief (see below).

  • Controller medicines must be taken every day, in many cases twice a day. Follow all directions from your child's healthcare provider.

Taking controller medicines daily

Your child may not understand why it's important to take medicine when they feel well. And remembering to take medicine each day can be hard for anyone. You can help by being firm and consistent. Try these tips:

  • Create a routine. Taking the medicines should be part of getting ready for bed or getting ready for school.

  • Set up a reward system. For example, award a point for each day your child sticks to the schedule. Your child then earns rewards based on these points.

  • If your child is old enough, make sure they understand what long-term controllers do and don’t do.

  • Explain the importance of these medicines to any other caregivers, such as daycare providers, teachers, school nurses, and babysitters. That way, the routine will be followed when your child is in someone else’s care.

  • Don’t make any medicine changes without checking with your child’s healthcare provider.

 Controller medicines your child may take


How it’s taken

What it’s used for

Inhaled corticosteroid

Inhaler or nebulizer

Controls airway inflammation. The first-choice controller medicine for most kids with asthma.

Other anti-inflammatory

Inhaler or pills

Helps control airway inflammation. Used for mild asthma or along with inhaled corticosteroids.

Long-acting bronchodilator

Inhaler or nebulizer

Keeps muscles around the airways from becoming tight. Used only in combination with inhaled corticosteroids.

For relief of flare-ups

Knowing how to manage flare-ups is key to asthma control. Learn to recognize your child’s symptoms early and to act quickly. This will help you stop flare-ups before they get serious. Follow your child's Asthma Action Plan. If your child doesn't have an action plan or if the plan is not up-to-date, talk with their healthcare provider. Your child’s Asthma Action Plan tells you exactly what symptoms signal a flare-up, and what to do. The action plan may include:

  • Watching for symptoms of moderate and severe flare-ups and knowing what to do.

  • Using quick-relief (rescue) medicine, such as a short-acting bronchodilator. This eases your child’s breathing right away.

  • Continuing or increasing controller medicine. This treats airway inflammation, which is the underlying cause of the flare-up.

 For flare-ups: Medicines your child may take


How it’s taken

What it’s used for

Short-acting bronchodilator

Inhaler or nebulizer

Gives quick relief by relaxing the muscles around the airways.

Oral corticosteroid

Pills or liquid

Taken for severe asthma flare-ups. Reduces swelling and mucus in airways.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Deborah Pedersen MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals BSN MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2022
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