Asthma Drugs and how they Affect your Children.

Although there are few side-effects or dangers associated with asthma drugs used with children, there are risks with any drug. We will take a quick look at the various asthma drugs and concerns for children.

The child’s age is important.  Children age 4 and under are usually treated differently than children from 5 to 11 years of age. Doctors will try and prescribe the least amount of medicine that will control the asthma symptoms in the child. Generally the doctor will gradually increase the amount of medication, or combine medications, until an acceptable level of control is achieved.  Once an acceptable level of asthma control is achieved in a child the doctor may start reducing the amount of the medication.  The goal is to achieve results with the least amount of drugs. A child with well-controlled asthma will have 1) few or no symptoms of asthma, 2) few or no asthma attacks, 3) few instances of quick-relief inhaler use, and 4) few or no side effects from the asthma drugs.

Asthma drugs are frequently placed in two categories, prevention (long-term) and quick-relief (short-term). Long-term medications are usually taken daily and the most commonly used are 1) Inhaled Corticosteroids, 2) Leukotriene Modifiers, and 3) Combination Inhalers.

Inhaled Corticosteroids are perhaps the most commonly prescribed long-term asthma drug for children. However, studies have shown that these drugs can slow growth in children. Although the effect is minor, and most of the growth seems to be “recaptured” later in the teens, parents should be observant and closely monitor the growth of their asthmatic children.

Leukotriene Modifiers are oral medications and usually prevent asthma symptoms for 24 hours.  However, in a very small number of children it has been associated with negative psychological reactions such as depression, aggression, and suicidal thoughts. Parents should closely monitor their children for any of change in the behavior of their children.

Combination Inhalers are usually used when the child’s asthma is not well-controlled by other asthma drugs. In rare cases these drugs have been linked to severe asthma attacks.

Quick-relief drugs are also called rescue medications and as their name implies, they are used for quick, short-term asthma symptom relief. The most common types of quick-relief asthma drugs are 1) Beta Agonists, 2) Ipratropium (Atrovent), and 3) Oral / Intravenous Corticosteroids.  The first category of these drugs, Beta Agonists, are inhaled and act within minutes and provide effective relief for a few hours. The second category of these drugs, Ipratropium,  is also inhaled but it is more commonly used with people who have emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis. These first two categories relax the airways of the child.  The third category, oral / intravenous corticosteroids is used to treat inflammation in the airway.  These drugs are only used for short-term treatment because they can cause very serious side effects on a long-term basis.

In short, it is very important for the parents and the child to participate in the child’s treatment program for asthma. Knowing more about the condition will give the child more confidence that he or she has a large measure of control of their health.