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Asthma health centre

Low doses of steroids from an inhaler to prevent 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 low doses of steroids from an inhaler, a treatment used to prevent 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. Different studies say different things. We can't be sure whether breathing in low doses of steroids helps prevent young children wheezing, but it might help some symptoms. We need more research to know for certain.

Your doctor may prescribe a steroid inhaler if your child has been using a quick-relief inhaler regularly but is still getting symptoms. Doctors try to prescribe the lowest dose of steroids that works. Higher doses aren't used very often, as doctors think they cause too many side effects.

What are they?

The medicine

Steroids calm down and prevent the swelling ( inflammation) in the airways of children with asthma. Your child can breathe in the medicine through a device called an inhaler.

Steroid inhalers are usually used to prevent wheezing and asthma attacks. Your doctor may refer to this medicine as a preventer.

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.

There are several steroid inhalers used to treat asthma. They include (with brand names):

The inhaler

There are lots of different types and brands of inhalers that your child can use to breathe in this medicine. The most common type is a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). This is a small plastic device with a slot for an aerosol canister that has the steroid drug inside. Pressing the inhaler releases the exact dose of the medicine as a cloud of tiny droplets that your child slowly breathes in through his or her mouth.

Younger children and babies cannot use an MDI on its own because it takes quite a lot of coordination to be able to breathe in and release at the same time. Two other devices can help younger children take inhaled medicine: a spacer device, which is often used with a face mask, and a nebuliser. To read more, see How to take asthma drugs.

How can they help?

The research isn't clear on whether low doses of steroids from an inhaler help children with asthma. [35] But in some studies of children under 2 years old, a low dose of steroids helped them: [45]

  • Get less breathless

  • Wheeze less during the day

  • Cough less during the day.

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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