Understanding your child’s inhalers
Your child’s GP or asthma nurse will explain which inhalers they need and why, and exactly when they need to take them.
Most children with asthma are prescribed two main types of asthma inhaler:
- Preventer inhaler – your child takes this every day, as prescribed, to help reduce inflammation. It lowers the chance of triggers causing asthma symptoms.
- Reliever inhaler (usually blue) – used to relieve symptoms when they get them.
Most children are also prescribed a spacer or facemask to use with their inhaler.
It’s important to understand what inhalers your child is taking, if you want to understand more about your child’s medicines, it may help for you to:
- read our pages about asthma medicine for children
- ask a pharmacist for information about your child’s inhalers
- read the Patient Information Leaflets (PILs) that come inside the box with the inhaler
- call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri). Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.
Help your child get the best from their inhalers
Helping your child to use the right inhaler technique with their spacer or facemask lowers their risk of:
- asthma symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, or feeling breathless
- side effects such as thrush on the face from a mask, or oral thrush in the mouth from steroid inhalers
- a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.
Here are five ways to help your child get the best from their asthma medicines:
1. Check your child’s inhaler technique
Getting the inhaler technique with their spacer or facemask right is one of the most important things you can do to help your child stay well.
It’s very important to watch your child take their inhaler so that you know they’ve taken it properly. It’s also important that your child’s school or nursery understand how they should be taking their inhaler.
You can check your child is using the right inhaler technique by:
- asking your GP or asthma nurse to check your child’s inhaler technique with their spacer or facemask at their next asthma review. It’s also important to check your child’s technique if they’re given a new type of inhaler, spacer, or facemask
- watching our simple and quick inhaler technique videos. Your child can watch them a few times to make sure they get the technique right.
- asking a pharmacist to check your child’s inhaler technique when you next pick up your child’s asthma medicines
- checking our advice for helping babies, toddlers and older children use their inhalers.
The right inhaler technique helps you get more from your asthma medicines. It also reduces the chance of side effects and reduces wasted medicine.
Remember to wipe your child’s face
Remember to wipe your child’s face after they have used a facemask or ask them to rinse their mouth out with water after using their steroid preventer inhaler. This is to prevent side effects like thrush.
2. Check your child is using the right spacer or facemask
As your child gets bigger, the asthma inhalers, spacer, or facemask they need to use will change. Using the right device for their size and stage of development helps your child get the full dose of their asthma medicine.
Once your child can drink through a straw, or they’re older than five, they should be using a spacer without a facemask. This is because medicine can be wasted when using a mask, as it can stick to your child’s face and to the inside of the mask.
Your child’s GP or asthma nurse will confirm if your child is using the right inhaler, spacer, or facemask for their age at their annual asthma review.
3. Clean and store your child’s inhalers correctly
Cleaning and storing your child’s inhalers, spacer or facemask properly means they can work in the best way possible.
- Find out the best way to clean and store your child’s spacer
- Find out the best way to clean and store your child’s inhalers
4. Get your child into a good routine with taking their medicine
The medicine in your child’s preventer inhaler cuts the risk of asthma symptoms and a potentially life-threatening asthma attack. The protection it gives your child’s lungs builds up over time. This means your child needs to take their preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, even if they’re feeling well.
Try these top tips to help you get into a good routine:
- Ask your child to put a sticker on their toothbrush as a reminder. Research shows you’re more likely to remember to give your child their medicine every day if you link it to something they already do, such as brushing their teeth.
- Keep their preventer inhaler and spacer or facemask on their bedside table to remind them to take it when they wake up and just before going to sleep.
- Set yourself reminders on your phone or write yourself a note in your diary or in your calendar. This can be really useful if you’re away from home too.
- Ask family or friends to help remind you. This might be useful if your child has only just started using an asthma inhaler. If your child has siblings who are old enough to help, it’s a good idea to teach them about asthma too.
- Make it fun so that your child links taking their inhaler with something positive. Some parents have told us they’ve found it helpful to decorate their child’s inhaler or spacer with stickers, give the inhaler a character name, do a special handshake or fist bump after each time they take it, or make doing a silly dance together part of the routine.
5. Make sure your child always has their reliever inhaler with them
Your child’s reliever inhaler (usually blue) gives them instant relief from asthma symptoms and asthma attacks, relaxing their airways very quickly. They need to keep their reliever inhaler with them all the time, so they can use it as soon as you or they notice asthma symptoms. They should feel a difference to their breathing within a few minutes.
Try these steps to make sure they can always use their reliever inhaler quickly if they need to:
- Make sure your child takes their reliever inhaler and spacer with them wherever they go, whether that’s school or the park. They could keep it in special bag or box.
- Make sure your child has a reliever inhaler somewhere easy to find at home.
- Make sure your child’s nursery or school has emergency inhalers. They should also have a copy of your child’s asthma action plan.
Helping your baby to use their inhaler
Spacers with facemasks are for babies or younger children who find it hard to use a spacer with a mouthpiece.
If your child is younger than one, they will probably use a small spacer and mask. Around their first birthday, they will probably be given a slightly bigger spacer and mask.
If you’re struggling to give your child their medicine, your GP or asthma nurse can help you find the best way to give your baby their asthma medicine.
Helping your toddler to use their inhaler
If your child is older than five, they will need to use a spacer with their inhaler. Watch our video on helping your child to use a spacer without a facemask.
They may need to use a spacer with a facemask until they’re ready to use a spacer with a mouthpiece. Watch our video on helping your child to use a spacer with a facemask.
Your GP or asthma nurse will talk to you about which ones are right for your child at their yearly asthma review. If you’re finding it hard to give your toddler their inhaler, you might want to try giving them rewards for taking the inhaler, so they feel more excited about it.
Helping your child to use their inhaler when they’re older
As your child gets older, it makes sense for them to continue to use a spacer because:
- spacers make inhalers easier to use and more effective – they hold the medicine inside, so your child doesn't have to worry about pressing the inhaler and breathing in at the same time.
- spacers help to prevent possible side-effects, such as thrush and a sore throat.
If your child needs to use a mask because they find it too difficult to use a spacer without one, there are masks available for older children and adults. Ask your GP or asthma nurse, or pharmacist about these.
It can sometimes be difficult to help your child use their inhalers. But you’re not alone. You may find it useful to join our Parent and Carer Support Network which provides support and a space for parents and carers of children with lung conditions to come together.