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Asthma medications for children

Rongoā mate huangō mō ngā tamariki

little boy using inhaler for asthmaThere are many asthma medications and which one your child will need depends on how severe and frequent their asthma symptoms are. Sometimes they will have to take more than one.

The main types of asthma medications are:


There are different types of inhaler devices, some of which are used with a spacer. Which one is best for your child will depend on how old they are and how severe their asthma is.

It's important that you and your child are shown how to use their inhaler properly because this'll mean they get the correct dose of medication.

Thumbnail image of inhalers posterThe Asthma and Respiratory Foundation has instructions for using inhalers.

Learn more about inhalers on the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation website. See the link below for videos showing how to use inhalers.

Click the image to the right to see a larger version of the poster showing the inhalers available in New Zealand.

Short-acting symptom relievers

A reliever inhaler contains a medication called a bronchodilator, which relaxes the muscles in the airways. Your child uses this inhaler if they have symptoms such as wheezing or shortness of breath. They can also use a reliever inhaler before exercising to prevent wheezing.

You can use extra doses of a reliever if your child is having a more severe asthma attack.

If your child needs to use their reliever inhaler regularly (most days or several times a day once or twice a week), it's important that you see your doctor to look at other asthma treatments. Your child should always have their reliever inhaler with them in case of an asthma attack.


The medicine in these inhalers is a steroid, which helps to reduce the inflammation and swelling in the airways. If your child is given one of these, it's important to use it every day to keep their airways healthy and prevent symptoms from developing.

It's safe for your child to use preventers for long periods.

Long-acting reliever inhalers

These are sometimes recommended for children whose asthma is not well controlled by using a preventer regularly. The medicines in these inhalers work for up to 12 hours to keep the airways open. They do not contain steroids but they must be used with a steroid (preventer) inhaler.

Combination inhalers

Combination inhalers include a preventer and a long-acting reliever in the same inhaler. Your child needs to use this inhaler every day but it's not suitable for emergencies.

Child spacerSpacers

With some inhalers, using a spacer helps to get more of the medicine into your lungs. Many of the newer inhalers are designed to be used without a spacer.

A small volume spacer with a mask is used for children who are too young to use a mouthpiece.

See Using a spacer for instructions.

Other asthma medications

Oral steroids

Oral steroids are usually given to you child as either prednisone tablets or Redipred liquid if their asthma is going through a bad patch or not settling down.

Oral steroids work quite quickly by reducing the inflammation in your child's airways and are usually taken for three to five days.

They can have side effects but usually only if taken for a long period of time. Your doctor will usually discuss this with you, but it's often better to use oral steroids to manage bad asthma quickly.


Given as a chewable table once a day, montelukast works as a preventer by reducing inflammation in your child's airways. It's sometimes used when other preventers aren't working, for example if your child gets asthma when exercising.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2021.

Page reference: 42443

Review key: HIASC-12638