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Ipratropium 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 ipratropium from an inhaler, a treatment for more severe wheezing in babies and young children. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know. There's not much research on how well this treatment works for young children.

What is it?

Ipratropium is usually used as an extra treatment for children who need to go to hospital for a severe asthma attack. It's given if a quick-relief inhaler, such as salbutamol or terbutaline, doesn't work on its own. It helps to open up your child's airways. There's some research to show that it can help older children. But we don't know if it works for young children and babies.

You may hear doctors call ipratropium a bronchodilator. That's because it dilates (opens up) the bronchial tubes (airways).

Ipratropium comes in a form that your child breathes in with an inhaler. This means the medicine gets right to the lungs, which is where it is needed. The brand name for this is Atrovert. Ipratropium also comes as a liquid that is used with a nebuliser (see below). The brand names for this are Ipratropium Steri-Neb and Respontin.

An inhaler is a device that holds the medicine. The most common type is a metered-dose inhaler. This is a small plastic device with a slot for an aerosol canister that has the drug inside. Pressing the canister releases the exact dose of the medicine as a cloud of tiny droplets that your child slowly breathes in through his or her mouth.

Young children sometimes have trouble using an inhaler. A device called a spacer is usually used to make it easier for them. A nebuliser can also be used. To read more, see How to take asthma drugs.

How can it help?

We don't know if it does. One study looked at children who were given ipratropium and a quick-relief drug called fenoterol. [51] Children who took both drugs were less likely to need more treatment than children who just took fenoterol.

The research found that ipratropium can help school-age children. [52] But there's not enough research to know whether it helps very young children.

How does it work?

Ipratropium can help to relieve asthma symptoms because it quickly opens up your child's airways. It does this by relaxing the muscles that can go into spasms (tighten suddenly) when your child breathes in something he or she is sensitive to (an asthma trigger). Having clear airways makes it easier to breathe.

Ipratropium stops a chemical called acetylcholine working. It latches on to cells in the airways and prevents acetylcholine from tightening up the muscles in the air passages.

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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