Asthma medicines help kids breathe easy. Medicines keep airways from swelling, becoming irritated, and narrowing.
When kids take their medicines as directed and avoid asthma triggers, their asthma is under control. And when their asthma is under control, kids can do just about anything they want to do.
The two main types of asthma medicines are quick-relief medicines and long-term control medicines.
How Do Quick-Relief Asthma Medicines Work?
Quick-relief medicines (also called rescue medicines or fast-acting medicines) do what their name says. They work immediately to relieve symptoms of an asthma flare-up as it’s happening. They open up the airways to relieve symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath.
The most-prescribed quick-relief medicines (like Albuterol) are quick-acting bronchodilators (usually given through an inhaler or a nebulizer). If a bronchodilator alone doesn’t ease a severe flare-up, other medicines may be given by mouth or injection to help treat it.
If your child has been prescribed quick-relief asthma medicine, it’s important to always keep it on hand. That means at home, at the mall, at sports practice, and even on vacation. Talk with your doctor about how often your child needs it. If it’s too often, the doctor also might prescribe a daily long-term control medicine to help prevent asthma flare-ups.
How Do Long-Term Control Asthma Medicines Work?
Long-term control medicines (also called controller medicines or maintenance medicines) work over a period of time to ease airway swelling, limit mucus, and help prevent asthma symptoms. These medicines may be inhaled or swallowed as a pill or liquid. They should be taken as prescribed, even when your child seems well.
There are a variety of long-term control medicines, but inhaled corticosteroids are the most common. They’re usually given through an inhaler or nebulizer. Despite their name, corticosteroids are not the same as performance-enhancing steroids used by athletes. They’re a safe and proven form of asthma treatment.
Long-acting bronchodilators also can be prescribed. These medicines relax the muscles of the airways for up to 12 hours.
Even if your child takes long-term control medicine regularly, quick-relief medicine is still needed to handle flare-ups when they happen.
What Else Should I Know About Asthma Medication?
Your doctor will decide which type of medicine your child needs based on his or her symptoms and how often they happen. Be sure to report any concerns or changes in the symptoms to help your doctor find the best treatment and also make updates when needed.
For many kids with asthma, both the type of medicine and the dosage needed will change over time as they grow.
Reviewed by: Aledie Amariah Navas Nazario, MD
Date reviewed: August 2018