Your Child’s Asthma: Medications

Woman watching girl use metered-dose inhaler.Medications are an important part of managing asthma. Ask your child’s health care provider about your child’s asthma medications. Find out how they work, how they’re taken, and what their possible side effects are. There are two types of asthma medications:

  • Long-term controller (maintenance) medications reduce inflammation of the airways. A child with asthma can have inflamed airways anytime, not just when he or she has symptoms. So controller medications are taken daily, even when the child feels well. This helps keep asthma symptoms from getting worse and prevents flare-ups.

  • Quick-relief (rescue) medications help stop worsening symptoms and flare-ups once they have started.

For Long-Term Control

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

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

  • Controller medications must be taken every day, in many cases twice a day.

Taking Controller Medications Daily

Your child may not understand why it’s important to take medication when he or she feels well. And remembering to take medication each day can be hard for anyone. You can help by being firm and consistent. Try these tips:

  • Develop a routine. Taking the medications 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 you child is old enough, make sure he or she understands what long-term controllers do and don’t do.

  • Explain the importance of these medications to any other caretakers, like day care providers and babysitters. That way, the routine will be followed when your child is in someone else’s care.

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

 Controller Medications 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 medication 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


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 a plan or if the plan is not up-to-date, talk with his or her health care 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”) medication, such as a short-acting bronchodilator. This eases your child’s breathing right away.

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

For Flare-Ups: Medications 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.


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