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Childhood Asthma

Welcome to the Child Health Information section of the CHEO web site. In this section, you will find information pertaining to childhood medical conditions. More specifically, we invite you to obtain information on:

Asthma Medications

This section will provide information on asthma treatment.

Note: All medications have a commercial name, and a chemical name. Generic products often use the chemical name. In this site, drugs' chemical names are given in brackets.

Disclaimer: No attempt has been made to list all asthma medications — in general, preference has been given to preparations more commonly used in the Ottawa area.

Overview of Asthma Treatment in Children

Controlling asthma involves a couple of important steps.
  • The first step is reducing contact with the child's asthma triggers. For tips on how to reduce exposure to allergens and irritants, click here.
  • The second step is drug therapy.
    • As most medications for asthma are inhaled, an understanding of how to use the child's inhaler(s) is absolutely essential.

The Types of Medications Used in Asthma

There are two main types of medications used in asthma. 

Reliever medications (or Bronchodilators) temporarily relax the muscle bands that surround the bronchial tubes, when they tighten up (or bronchoconstrict) during an asthma attack. These medications are essential for making certain that enough air gets in and out of the lungs during an asthma attack. Virtually everyone with asthma should have a reliever medication available to him or her. 

Preventer medications (or Anti-Inflammatory medications) make inflammatory cells in the lungs less likely to release the chemicals that cause asthmatic reactions in lungs. This makes the lungs less sensitive to the various factors that trigger a given child's asthma, even when the child is exposed to these factors. Some preventer medications even decrease the number of inflammatory cells in the lungs. Preventer medications (as the name suggests) prevent asthma attacks, and reduce the severity of the child's asthma. In general, these medications must be used regularly to be effective.

Asthma medications are mainly given by some type of inhaler, as relatively large amounts of medication can be delivered directly to the lungs, and quite little medication reaches other parts of the body, where it can potentially cause side effects. The disadvantage of inhaled medications is that the inhaler must be used properly, and the inhaler must be in good working order, for the medication to reach the lungs. Some preventer asthma medications are given as pills.

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