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Asthma health centre

High doses of steroids from an inhaler to treat more severe wheezing in babies and young children

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for parents of a baby or young child with wheezing. It tells you about high doses of steroids from an inhaler, a treatment used for more severe wheezing in babies and young children. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

We're not certain. More research is needed into this treatment.

What are they?

The steroids used for asthma are anti-inflammatory medicines. They calm down and prevent inflammation in the airways. Steroids from an inhaler are often used to prevent asthma.

If children have to go to hospital because of an asthma attack, they are usually given a quick-relief inhaler. Sometimes they will be given steroids at the same time. When steroids are used like this, they're usually given as tablets or a liquid. [49] Some researchers have looked at whether steroids can help treat an asthma attack if they're inhaled. But steroids aren't usually used this way.

It is important to remember that the steroids used to treat asthma are not the same as the anabolic steroids used by some athletes and bodybuilders. In fact, they are a direct copy of steroids produced naturally by our bodies to deal with inflammation. The full name for the steroids used to treat asthma is corticosteroids. To learn more, see More about steroids and asthma.

How can they help?

There is no evidence that breathing in high doses of steroids helps to relieve asthma symptoms or wheezing in very young children. [35]

How do they work?

Steroids can help to reduce swelling in the lungs and open up the airways. They're often used to prevent asthma symptoms. Steroid tablets are also used to treat severe asthma attacks.

Some researchers have looked at whether breathing in these drugs can help young children and babies who are having an asthma attack. The research doesn't give a clear answer about whether steroids work when they're used in this way.

Can they be harmful?

We don't know much about the side effects of inhaled steroids in very young children. If steroids are given as emergency treatment for an asthma attack, they're not usually used for very long. This may mean they're less likely to cause side effects.

In older children, a fungal infection (called thrush or candidiasis) in the throat is one of the most common problems when using steroid inhalers. It's not usually serious.

How good is the research on high doses of steroids from an inhaler to treat more severe wheezing in babies and young children?

There isn't any good evidence to say whether high does of steroids from an inhaler really help treat wheezing in young children. Although there have been some studies looking into this, the results have not been clear enough to say for certain. [35] [50]



Inflammation is when your skin or some other part of your body becomes red, swollen, hot, and sore. Inflammation happens because your body is trying to protect you from germs, from something that's in your body and could harm you (like a splinter) or from things that cause allergies (these things are called allergens). Inflammation is one of the ways in which your body heals an infection or an injury.

For more terms related to Asthma in children


For references related to Asthma in children click here.
Last Updated: July 03, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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