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Salbutamol from an inhaler to prevent wheezing in babies and young children

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for parents of a baby or young child with wheezing. It tells you about regular use of salbutamol 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.

Does it work?

We're not certain. There's no evidence from the research that breathing in salbutamol every day will help to prevent your child wheezing.

What is it?

Salbutamol inhalers are usually used to treat asthma symptoms when they happen. They're often called quick-relief inhalers. Researchers have also looked at whether using one of these inhalers regularly could prevent wheezing.

Salbutamol helps relax the muscles in the lungs so that the airways open up, making it easier for children to breathe. Your doctor may call this drug a bronchodilator, because it dilates (opens up) the bronchial tubes (airways).

Breathing in salbutamol is a good way to take the medicine, as the drug gets straight to the lungs, which is where it's needed. Brand names for salbutamol inhalers include Ventolin and Airomir.

Young children are usually given this medicine through a spacer device attached to an inhaler or nebuliser. That's because it can be hard for them to use the same inhalers as older children. It can take quite a bit of coordination to press down on an inhaler and breathe in at the same time. To read more, see How to take asthma drugs.

How can it help?

Studies so far show that breathing in salbutamol every day will not prevent your young child getting wheezy. [43] [44] When doctors prescribe these inhalers, they usually suggest children only use them when they need them.

How does it work?

Salbutamol inhalers work well to treat asthma symptoms when they happen. They help to open up the airways in your child's lungs. This makes breathing easier.

Doctors wanted to see whether using a salbutamol inhaler regularly could prevent asthma symptoms. But salbutamol inhalers don't seem to help when they're used in this way.

Can it be harmful?

The most common side effect of salbutamol in young children is a rise in how fast the heart beats. This is because the types of cells this drug affects are in the heart as well as in the lungs. But the studies didn't report any side effects.

Your child may also get shaking (tremors) and have low levels of potassium in the blood, which can be dangerous. (Your body needs potassium to balance the amount of water in your blood and body tissues, and to help your nerves and muscles work properly.) But the children in the studies we looked at did not get these effects.

How good is the research on salbutamol from an inhaler to prevent wheezing in babies and young children?

There is no good evidence that inhaling salbutamol can help prevent wheezing in very young children. Neither of the studies we found showed this treatment to be helpful. [43] [44]

Citations

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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