Photo of little girl using her holding chamber and her inhaler

How well do you understand your child’s asthma medications? Do you know how often they are to be taken? How to use an inhaler correctly? Or how the medication can help control symptoms?

Many parents don’t, according to a recent study published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Researchers surveyed parents of 740 children with probable persistent asthma. They compared their responses with their doctors. Researchers found nearly half of the parents did not know the medication class or how often the medication was to be taken.

Among parents of children prescribed asthma medication:

  • 29 percent did not understand inhaled corticosteroids;
  • 16 percent did not understand a combination of inhaled corticosteroid and long-acting bronchodilator;
  • and 10 percent did not understand leukotriene antagonists.

Additional key findings:

  • More than half of those supposed to use medicine only during asthma flares didn’t follow directions.
  • 27 percent of parents of children on daily inhaled corticosteroids did not know their child was supposed to use it every day.

The research suggests greater communication is needed between patients and healthcare professionals. This is especially important when discussing inhaled corticosteroids, says the study’s primary author Ann Chen Wu, MD, of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

“A mismatch between parents and provider was more likely to happen if the parents felt the medicine was not helping, or conversely, if the parents believed their child did not need as much as prescribed,” Dr. Wu says.

Patient education is key to helping patients and parents better understand asthma medications. The National Institutes of Health and the Global Initiative for Asthma (GINA) recently released updated asthma guidelines. Both guidelines classify asthma severity and explain how medications can be an integral part of developing a treatment plan.

Allergy & Asthma Network’s popular poster series includes our Respiratory Treatments (previously called Respiratory Inhalers At a Glance) and Respiratory Inhalers Side by Side  posters. The Respiratory Treatments poster is also available in Spanish.

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Our Understanding Asthma practical guide helps families understand signs and symptoms of asthma, learn different types of asthma medications, how to use an inhaler, and more. It’s available as a free download. The guide is also available in Spanish.