Treatment of childhood asthma. Options and rationale for inhaled therapy

Drugs. 1998 Feb;55(2):237-52. doi: 10.2165/00003495-199855020-00005.


Epidemiological studies suggest the prevalence of asthma is increasing, though some remain sceptical as to the magnitude or indeed the presence of an increase. However, despite improved diagnosis and the availability of the potent drugs now available there remains considerable respiratory morbidity associated with asthma. It is clear from a number of studies that failure to deliver drugs to the lungs when using inhaler devices is a factor contributing to this high level of morbidity. Failure of drug delivery may result from the prescribing of inappropriate devices, failure to use devices appropriately or failure to comply with a treatment regimen. For most of the currently available forms of asthma therapy there are significant advantages to be gained from administering them in aerosol form. The benefits to be derived from administering these drugs as an aerosol include a rapid onset of action for drugs such as beta-agonists and a low incidence of systemic effects from drugs such as beta-agonists and corticosteroids. Over the past 25 years our understanding of the nature of asthma has changed. Though this has been reflected in the emphasis on inhaled corticosteroid therapy in recent guidelines, it has not been reflected in the range of inhaler devices available. Manufacturers continue to place drugs such as corticosteroids in the same devices as short acting beta-agonists even though the requirements for these different drug classes are very different. It is likely that this contributes to suboptimal therapeutic responses with inhaled corticosteroids. However, the variability associated with current delivery systems is relatively small compared with the variability introduced by poor compliance. There is no work currently available to indicate how the use of cheap disposable devises which do not incorporate any form of positive feedback influence compliance with inhaled steroids. Optimising aerosolised drug delivery in childhood involves consideration of the class of drugs, the particular drug within a class but more importantly, the age and abilities of the child. Devices must be selected to suit a particular child's needs and abilities. Devices utilising tidal breathing are generally used such as spacing chambers or, less commonly these days, nebulisers. A screaming or struggling child, or failure to use a closely fitting mask, reduces drug delivery to the lungs enormously. Failure to respond to inhaled therapy in early childhood may be attributable to failure of drug delivery. Drug delivery in early childhood using current devices remains more an art than a science.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Age Factors
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Asthma / diagnosis
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers
  • Theophylline / administration & dosage


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Adrenergic beta-Agonists
  • Anti-Asthmatic Agents
  • Theophylline