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Airway, Breathing, and Lung Conditions

What if My Child Doesn't Take His or Her Asthma Medication?


One of the best ways to help kids manage asthma, besides avoiding triggers, is to make sure they take their medicine as prescribed. The effect of skipping medication will vary depending on what kind it is.

What Controller Medications Do

Also called preventive or maintenance medications, controller medicines work over time to reduce airway inflammation and help prevent asthma symptoms from occurring. Kids need to take these medicines regularly, even when feeling fine.

If One or More Doses Is Skipped

Although skipping a dose appears to have no immediate effect, it allows the lungs to slowly get more irritated, putting a child at increased risk of an asthma flare-up.

When taking controller medicine as directed, kids may be better able to tolerate triggers, such as a cold or tobacco smoke, without getting a flare-up. But if they're not taking the controller medicine correctly, the lungs won't be functioning as well and these irritants can cause an asthma flare-up.

What Rescue Medications Do

Also called quick-relief or fast-acting medications, rescue medicines work immediately to handle asthma symptoms when they occur. These types of medicines are often inhaled directly into the lungs, where they open up the airways and relieve symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, often within minutes.

If a child doesn't use his or her rescue medications during an asthma flare-up, the airways can continue to tighten until the child ends up in the emergency department. So it's important for kids to always have rescue medication available and to take it as directed by their doctor.

Getting Kids Involved

Involving kids in their asthma treatment can help ensure that they take the asthma medications appropriately. Explain how the medicines work and how much your child needs to take. Having an asthma action plan can help both of you learn what you need to know.

It's also important to stress these two key concepts to kids:

  1. They should take their controller medication as directed, even when feeling well.
  2. Rescue medication should be kept on hand, no matter where the child is.

You can help by prompting your child to take controller medications and reminding him or her to take rescue medication along when leaving the house. Also make sure that your child doesn't run out of medicine.

Resist the temptation to adjust medication dosages above or below the prescribed amounts. If you're noticing that your child seems to be doing better or worse, talk with the doctor about whether changes are needed. Also talk with the doctor if side effects are a concern, as he or she might be able to adjust the dosage or prescribe a different medication.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014


Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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