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Asthma health centre

Steroid tablets to treat more severe asthma attacks

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for parents of a child who has asthma. It tells you about steroid tablets, a treatment used for more severe asthma attacks. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. If your child has a more severe asthma attack, their doctor may suggest steroid tablets alongside other treatments. Steroid tablets are often given to children who get taken to hospital with severe asthma.

Steroid tablets can improve how well your child's lungs are working, help your child get better faster, and prevent further attacks. Steroid tablets may also reduce the chances that your child will need to stay in hospital.

What are they?

Steroids are medicines that help with inflammation. They calm down and prevent swelling in the airways of children with asthma.

If your child is having a moderate or severe asthma attack, your doctor may prescribe steroid tablets or syrup to control the attack and help prevent another one. Treatment usually lasts for about three days. [86]

Steroid tablets can be given to your child by a GP, and may stop your child needing treatment in hospital. Or they may be started in hospital if your child's asthma is very bad.

Steroids are usually used to treat attacks alongside other treatments such as oxygen (in hospital) and quick-relief inhalers ( salbutamol or terbutaline). Steroid tablets take three to four hours to work. In the meantime, the other drugs help relieve symptoms.

If your child can't take tablets or syrups for some reason, he or she may be given a steroid drip. In a drip, steroids get into the bloodstream through a needle that's put in a vein in your child's arm.

Prednisolone, hydrocortisone, and methylprednisolone are all steroids that are used to treat asthma. Steroid tablets are usually prednisolone.

It is important to remember that steroids used to treat asthma are not the anabolic steroids used by some athletes and bodybuilders. The full name for the steroids used in asthma is corticosteroids. These are produced naturally by our bodies to deal with inflammation.

If your child is admitted to hospital with an asthma attack, he or she may be given steroid tablets to take for a short time when he or she returns home. This helps prevent another attack.

However, if your child has very bad asthma that isn't being controlled with other treatments, they might need to take steroids on a regular basis for a longer period.

How can they help?

Having steroid tablets or a steroid drip may: [87]

  • Speed up your child's recovery and help prevent the attack from getting worse

  • Reduce the chances that your child will have to be admitted to hospital

  • Reduce the chances of your child having another attack in the first few weeks or months after treatment

  • Reduce the amount of time your child needs to stay in hospital because of the attack.

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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