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More about steroids and asthma

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Many parents worry about giving their children steroids because of the side effects linked to these drugs. For example, you may have heard that these drugs can stop your child growing normally. Here we look at the research and answer some commonly asked questions.

Why has my child been given steroids?
  • Steroids are the most effective treatment there is for controlling inflammation in the lungs. Inflammation, or swelling in the lungs, causes asthma.

  • Steroids help to prevent asthma attacks.

  • Steroid tablets or syrups are sometimes used in hospital to treat severe asthma attacks, and for a few days afterwards.

  • Asthma that isn't properly treated can be very serious and even affect your child's growth.

What are steroids?

Steroids are a group of medicines that are used to treat conditions where there is inflammation or swelling. In asthma they are used to reduce swelling in the airways in the lungs. The airways become inflamed and swollen in people with asthma, making it harder to breathe.

It's important to remember that the medicines used to treat your child's asthma are not the same as the anabolic steroids used by some athletes and bodybuilders to build up muscles. The full name for the steroids used in asthma is corticosteroids. Corticosteroids used for asthma are very similar to certain natural hormones produced in the body to deal with inflammation.

How do children take steroids?

Most children take steroids through an inhaler once or twice a day. Some children use a spacer device to help them take their steroids. To learn more, see How to take asthma drugs.

If your child's asthma becomes very bad, he or she may need to take a course of steroid tablets as well, usually for one or two weeks. Some children with very bad asthma need to take steroid tablets for a few months at a time. High doses of steroids from an inhaler or steroid drips are sometimes used to treat emergency asthma attacks.

Names of some of the steroids used to treat asthma include beclometasone (brand name Qvar), budesonide (Pulmicort), and fluticasone (Flixotide).

If your child has tried other treatments and still gets asthma symptoms, their doctor may suggest steroids taken as tablets or as a liquid. But doctors try to use these at the lowest dose and for the shortest time. That's because taking steroids as tablets or as a liquid may cause more side effects.

Children are sometimes started on steroids during a bad asthma attack, and given them for a few days afterwards. When they're used like this, steroids are given as tablets or a liquid. Occasionally they're given as a drip (an intravenous infusion or IV). They're not usually given through an inhaler.

Will steroids make my child short?
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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