If your child has asthma, you know how important it is to have the right medication on hand and to be able to help him or her to use it correctly for the most effective results.

The Right Treatment is Essential

Today, the American Lung Association estimates that as 6.8 million children suffer from this serious condition, and many of them rely on medications that are delivered by inhaler to manage their symptoms. Using an inhaler can be difficult for young people, so many doctors will also prescribe a special tool called a spacer or chamber to help the medication move into the lungs most efficiently.

The Benefits of a Spacer

A spacer is a plastic tube that attaches to the end of the inhaler, so that when you push down on the inhaler, the medicine sprays into the enclosed chamber or tube where it remains, allowing your child to breathe it in at his or her own pace.
The benefits of using a spacer are multifold, including:

  • Ensuring your child gets the recommended dose of the medication.
  • Preventing side effects of that can come from an oral dose of some medications.
  • Getting the medication directly to the lungs, where it is most needed.
  • Taking effect more quickly than oral options.

Some spacers have masks attached to them, which are designer for very young children. As children get a little older, many of them forego the mask to opt for a mouth-piece style instead.

It is also worth noting that spacers with either masks or mouthpieces can make taking asthma medication much easier not only for children, but also for adults who have difficulty breathing in their asthma medication correctly.

How to Use a Spacer

To help your child to use a spacer with a mask, you will want to follow these basic steps:

  • Shake the inhaler canister, then place it into the spacer or chamber (check the directions to find out exactly how to position it for the type of space you have). Remove the inhaler cap.
  • Put the mask to the child’s face so it covers the mouth and nose, and make sure it creates a seal so that the medication will not seep out.
  • Push down on the inhaler to release a dose of the medicine. This counts as one puff. (Your doctor will likely prescribe one or two puffs per use, depending on your child’s age, weight and needs.)
  • Encourage your child to breathe normally into the mask. (You will want to follow your doctor’s instructions but generally, your child should take about six breaths.)

For a spacer with a mouthpiece instead of a mask, the steps will be similar, except:

  • Instead of putting the mask over the face, your child will put the mouthpiece up to his or her lips and form a seal around it. (The mouthpiece shouldn’t be gripped by the teeth or tongue.)
  • When your child breathes the medication in, instead of breathing normally as with the mask, you will want to have your child take a deep breath and hold it in for about 5 or 10 seconds, then release and repeat to ensure enough medication gets into the lungs.

The New Style Inhalers

You probably know that as of January 2009, inhalers became more environmentally-friendly. The Food and Drug Administration now requires all inhalers to use hydrofluoroalkanes or HFAs to propel the medication, instead of chlorofluorocarbons, which have been found to damage the ozone layer. This change should not affect the way your child takes the medication, but you should be aware that the new inhaler doesn’t spray as forcefully, so it won’t feel the same, and it may also have a different taste. The new inhaler will need to be cleaned more often, and will cost a bit more, too, since no generic versions are yet available. While many parents have addressed concerns about these changes, the experts say they should not affect your child’s health or use in any way.