Pediatric Asthma: Treating Your Children Correctly

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Whether your child has recently been diagnosed with asthma or you have been dealing with it for years, there is always a learning curve when it comes to asthma management.

Also, many children with asthma are on multiple medications as part of their overall treatment plan. That only adds to the difficulties. The more medications or, as in our case, the more kids in the family with asthma, the more complex things become.

Managing your child’s asthma can be confusing. But getting it right is essential to reaching and maintaining proper asthma control.

How big is the problem?

According to a 2016 study published in the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, there are startlingly large discrepancies between how physicians instructed a medication be used and how patients actually used it. The study was completed by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and lead by Ann Chen Wu, M.D. and published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. It found that only 72 percent of parents knew what class of medication their child takes, and only 50 percent were actually using their controllers correctly.

Clearing up controller confusion

The Mayo Clinic explains that controller medications are those that are taken regularly to control chronic symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. These medications are usually taken once or twice per day to provide long-acting benefits to lung function. They are not used for immediate attacks.

Some examples of controller medications may include: inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, long-acting beta agonists (LABAs), theophylline and combination inhalers that contain both a corticosteroid and a LABA. Our asthma chicks currently use Symbicort twice per day as directed to help control their asthma.

Fast acting or rescue medications

Rescue medications are sometimes confused with controllers, especially when both are in an inhaler form. Medications that provide immediate but short-term relief of symptoms in the case of an asthma attack are considered to be rescue medications.

Some examples of rescue medications include: Short-acting beta agonists including albuterol, Ipratropium (Atrovent), as well as oral and intravenous corticosteroids (for severe attacks). These medications do not provide long-term control and are generally used on an as needed basis when an asthma attack is occurring. Our girls use ProAir (albuterol) inhalers as their rescue medication.

Note: These types of medications may be used on a scheduled basis as directed by your child’s physician. For example, our girls use their ProAir prior to physical activities for short-term opening of their airways in order to prevent an exercise induced asthma attack.

Additional resources

If you have any questions about your children’s asthma or their medications, contact your physician or pharmacist. They can help you better understand how your child’s medications work and can help you with scheduling medications.

When a child needs multiple medications, keeping track of medication and dosages can be tough. We have found that keeping a journal to jot down when the medication is used along with any symptoms is essential. You can also do the same thing with an app like AsthmaMD.


Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

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Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.