There are two main types of asthma treatments called relievers and preventers. Everybody with a diagnosis of asthma should have a reliever inhaler. They are usually blue and should be used to relieve asthma symptoms quickly. They open up the airways by relaxing the muscles that have tightened around the airway making it easier to breathe. They usually work quickly – a few minutes.
They are very safe to use and have few side effects. High doses of reliever inhalers can make you shake a little or raise the heartbeat, but these effects are harmless and will wear off quickly.
Preventer inhalers are usually brown and contain steroids in small doses. They protect the lining of the airway and help to control the swelling and inflammation. They can also stop the airway being so sensitive to asthma triggers. The benefit of using a preventer inhaler will build up and it takes about two weeks to have an effect. This is why it is important that they are taken everyday even if you are well. They will not help to relieve sudden symptoms.
As the preventer inhalers contain steroids, it is recommended that they be always taken through a spacer device and to clean your teeth, gargle or rinse your mouth after use. This helps to reduce the side effects of mouth infections, soreness and hoarseness that can sometimes occur although the risk is small. Steroid tablets are sometimes used in addition to inhalers if your child has an asthma attack and needs to use their reliever inhaler a lot. Usually a short course of three to five days is needed to help reduce the inflammation in the airways and control their symptoms. You may be given a course of steroids to keep at home by your doctor, which will be included in your child’s management plan.