Asthma treatment in children under age 5

The treatment goals for young children with asthma are to:

Your child's healthcare professional adjusts your child's long-term treatment over time. At first, the amount of medicine may be raised, also called stepped up. This is done until the asthma is under control for a time. Then the amount of medicine is lowered, also called stepped down. This common treatment plan is called the stepwise approach. The goal is to find the right balance of medicine. It involves taking the least amount of daily medicine possible to keep asthma under control. It also means needing as few quick-relief treatments for asthma attacks as possible.

If your child needs to use quick-relief medicine too often, the long-term treatment likely will be stepped up. Or another medicine may be added.

Medicine gets stepped up or down depending on the response to treatment and each child's overall growth and development. It also depends on seasonal changes or changes in activity levels.

Long-term control medicines

Long-term control medicines usually are taken daily to prevent asthma symptoms. You also might hear them called maintenance medicines. Types of long-term control medicines include the following:

Quick-relief rescue medicines

These medicines can relieve asthma symptoms right away, and the effects last 4 to 6 hours. Quick-relief medicines for asthma include albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, others) and levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA).

For children with mild, occasional asthma symptoms, this type of medicine may be the only treatment that is needed.

For young children who have ongoing asthma and use long-term control medicines, quick-relief medicine is used to treat asthma attacks. It also may be used to prevent asthma symptoms triggered by exercise.

Overuse of quick-relief medicines usually means that a healthcare professional needs to change the long-term control treatment plan.

Medicine delivery devices

Most asthma medicines are given with a device called a metered dose inhaler. A correctly timed deep breath is needed to get medicines into the lungs. Attachments for metered dose inhalers and other devices can make it easier for children under age 5 to get the right amount of medicine. These devices include: