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How is Asthma treated in children?

 
Asthma is a common New Zealand illness, affecting over 521,000 New Zealanders. It’s scary when it affects the child you care for, but the good news is that asthma can be well managed. Having knowledge about your child’s asthma, what their symptoms and triggers are, and about their medication will help you to keep them happy and well.
Asthma is a common New Zealand illness, affecting over 521,000 New Zealanders. It’s scary when it affects the child you care for, but the good news is that asthma can be well managed.

Having knowledge about your child’s asthma, what their symptoms and triggers are, and about their medication will help you to keep them happy and well.
 

How is Asthma treated in children? 


Asthma is treated with medication, which is generally delivered through an inhaler. An inhaler is a plastic case that holds asthma medicine, and is often called a ‘puffer’.

There are two different types of inhaler: metered dose (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers.


What is a metered dose inhaler (MDI)?


An MDI contains a pressurised canister that holds medicine in the form of gas, which is designed to deliver asthma medicine directly to the lungs. Once shaken to mix the medicine before use, the MDI can be pressed and released into a spacer.

A spacer is a clear plastic tube that is connected to the MDI and has a mouthpiece on the opposite end for the user to inhale the medicine once dispersed into the spacer. A valve in the mouthpiece of the spacer opens and shuts as the person using it breathes in and out so that the medicine doesn’t escape.

Spacers greatly increase the effectiveness of the asthma medicine due to the regulated dose being breathed in, and that it can be inhaled over a short period of time rather than all at once which is less effective.

If you’re in need of a spacer you can get one free of charge from your health provider.
 

What is a dry powder inhaler?


A dry powder inhaler contains a powder medicine, rather than a gas like an MDI. A dry powder inhaler does not need to be shaken before use, the fine powder can be inhaled through the mouthpiece and does not need to be used with a spacer.

Both MDI inhalers and dry powder inhalers come with different medications in them, and are either a preventer medication, reliever medication or a combination medication.
 

What is a preventer medicine and how does it work?


Preventer inhalers are probably your most important asthma medication, because they treat the inflammation inside the airways, and reduce the likelihood of an asthma flare up. When you have asthma, your airway walls become leaky, and harmful triggers can get through and cause swelling.

Preventer medicines help to seal up your airway walls. This helps break the cycle of swelling and mucus production, and makes room for air to flow freely.

Preventer medicines work slowly and it may take up to three months of regular use (generally twice a day) to notice the full benefit of the medicine. It can be dangerous to skip a few doses or stop your preventer when feeling well, as your asthma will often get worse.
 

What is a reliever medicine and how does it work?


Reliever inhalers bring short term relief from asthma by relaxing the tight bands of muscle around the airways. This helps air flow in and out of the lungs more freely.

Relievers can help wheezing, coughing or tightness in the chest. They are only taken when you need them.

Many people rely on their reliever inhaler to feel better immediately, but they do not treat the underlying cause of their asthma (swollen and inflamed airways) by regularly using their preventer.

Relievers don’t have a lasting effect like preventers – their effect wears off in a few hours and they don’t change the swelling in the breathing tubes.

Some relievers are available in tablet form, and are used for children who can’t manage inhalers and spacers or when inhaled treatment does not seem to work.


What is a combination medicine and how does it work?


Combination inhalers contain both preventer and long acting reliever medicine in one device.

Combination inhalers should be taken regularly as prescribed, most cannot be used in an emergency situation, check with your doctor if your combination inhaler can be used in an emergency.

Examples of combination inhalers are Seretide, Symbicort and Vannair.
 

What medicines are used if asthma is severe?


Prednisone is used in severe episodes of asthma, in addition to the use of preventer and reliever inhalers.

Prednisone comes in a liquid or tablet form, and works slowly over several hours to reverse the swelling of the airways.

Prednisone needs to be continued for several days after your asthma symptoms settle to make sure that the swelling doesn’t return.

Your doctor may use your asthma action plan and symptom diary as a guide to reduce and stop Prednisone. If you stop too early your asthma may get worse again.
 

How do I know what medication is best for my child’s asthma?


Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about your child’s asthma symptoms and will decide which medicine will be best.

Be sure to ask for an Asthma Action Plan, which will tell you what to do when your child asthma improves or gets worse.

It’s also a great idea to ask your doctor or nurse to show you how to use the device, as using it correctly ensures that more medicine can reach the lungs.
 

Find out more about managing childhood asthma


If you would like to find out more information about how you can help to manage your child’s asthma, visit: learnaboutlungs.org.nz.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation NZ is New Zealand’s not-for-profit sector authority on all respiratory conditions including asthma.
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