Common Asthma Drugs
A third of parents have "strong concerns" about their kids' asthma medications, according to one study. "Any drug can cause side effects in some children, but most asthma medications are very safe," says Parents advisor William E. Berger, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California-Irvine. "Children with asthma rarely go to the hospital for using medication, but they often go because they haven't used it." Here, a guide to often-confusing treatments.
- Short-acting bronchodilators: Drugs like albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil) or levalbuterol (Xopenex) relax the muscles in the airways for up to four hours. If your child has only occasional symptoms, this may be all the treatment she needs, but if she uses her inhaler more than twice a week, she probably needs a long-term control plan.
- Inhaled corticosteroids: Taking a preventive drug such as fluticasone (Flovent) or budesonide (Pulmicort) once or twice a day reduces inflammation and makes airways less sensitive to triggers. "Inhaled corticosteroids are very different -- and much safer -- than anabolic steroids," says Dr. Berger. Doctors usually start kids at a low dose.
- Leukotriene modifiers: Drugs like montelukast (Singulair) interfere with chemicals in the body that constrict bronchial tubes. Leukotriene modifiers are sometimes less effective than inhaled corticosteroids; doctors may prescribe them as an alternative (especially if parents are wary of corticosteroid medications) or as an addition.
- Long-acting bronchodilators: Medications like salmeterol and formoterol, which open up airways for up to 12 hours, are combined with inhaled corticosteroids in the medications Advair and Symbicort for kids with more severe asthma. Since a small number of asthmatics may get worse on these drugs, some doctors avoid them.