Tests & Procedures



Asthma Medications

What medications are commonly used for children with asthma?

The use of medications in children is highly individualized, based on the severity of the child's symptoms, the age of the child, and the ability of the child to take inhaled medications. The following are the most commonly used medications:

  • Bronchodilators. These medications are used to help open the narrowed lungs and may relieve coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or difficulty in breathing. These are usually considered "rescue medications" for acute attacks of asthma. Types of bronchodilators are beta-agonists, theophylline, and anticholinergics. These medications come inhaled, in pill form, liquid, or injectables.

    The short-acting bronchodilators are used as needed as symptoms occur. Longer acting bronchodilators may be used for maintenance or on a daily basis to help control flare-ups from occurring.
  • Anti-inflammatory medications. These medications help to decrease the inflammation that is happening in the airways with asthma. These include two types of medications:
    • Mast cell stabilizers. Cromolyn and nedocromil are two types of nonsteroidal medications that are usually inhaled by the child.
    • Corticosteroids. These medications can be given in a variety of ways. Some of them are inhaled, while others may be taken as a pill or liquid, or even as an injection. The steroids taken by mouth can have more side effects than those that are inhaled. Inhaled steroids are safe and effective controller medications and should be taken every day. Consult your child's doctor about the best choice for your child.
  • Anti-leukotrienes. These are a relatively new type of medication being used to help control the symptoms of asthma. These medications help to decrease the narrowing of the lung and to decrease the chance of fluids in the lungs. These are usually given by mouth.
  • Immunotherapy. Omalizumab, a monoclonal antibody that attacks an immunoglobulin associated with allergic reactions, can be used for severe asthma attacks in adults and children age 12 and over.

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Last reviewed: 8/29/2012