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How Safe Is Albuterol for Children?

By Ray Hawk
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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Albuterol for children who have asthma can be beneficial if used properly, but it does carry some risks. It is not recommended for children under six years of age because its safety and effectiveness have not been tested or proven on children at this stage in their development. The drug also is considered a short-term treatment for an asthma attack and carries increased risk of side-effects if used for long periods of time.

The form of albuterol that is administered in an albuterol inhaler is known to carry more significant side-effects than the drug in tablet or liquid form. Respiratory symptoms from the drug's activity at opening the airways can include coughing and throat irritation. Using albuterol for children or adults can also cause more severe symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting. Psychologically-related conditions can also frequently occur that include headaches, nervousness, and insomnia. Children can acquire a distracted state of mind that makes it difficult for them to concentrate, or become irritable or emotionally withdrawn.

The albuterol dosage level has a significant impact on unwanted side-effects and high doses are known to cause more adverse events and pose very serious risks. In January of 2011, single-dose vials of Albuterol Sulfate Inhalation Solution were recalled by the manufacturer in the US because they were mislabeled. They were labeled as containing 0.5 milligrams per 3 milliliter solution, when, in fact, they contained five times that dosage level at 2.5 milligrams per 3 milliliter solution. The nebulizer drug was a prescription level product for both adults and children. A severe overdose of albuterol for children can cause such effects as tremors and seizures, heart rates up to 200 beats per minute, and death.

Due to the increasing risks with rising albuterol dosage levels, and possible adverse health conditions with long-term use, doctors recommend that albuterol for children not be used more than three times per week. If asthma treatments are required on such a regular basis, different types of medications such as various corticosteroids need to be prescribed. Other alternatives to the drug that seem to have less side-effects are based on compounds of magnesium sulfate, ipratropium bromide, or a new formulation of albuterol known as levalbuterol. Some evidence has also shown that long-term use of albuterol for children can actually perpetuate asthma conditions, so it is recommended as more of a emergency treatment for asthma attacks than a routine one.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established a statistical chart for the frequency of side-effects with albuterol for children and adults with the tablet form of the drug. The most frequent two side-effects by far are tremors and nervousness, which occur as 20% of all reported side-effects. Headaches comprise 7% of reported side-effects, and heart conditions such as tachycardia and palpitations were 5% of the total reported. Other conditions such as sleeplessness, muscle cramps, and nausea comprised less than 5% each of the total reported side-effects from taking albuterol.

Albuterol is considered a sympathomimetic drug which mimics the stimulation of the human nervous system. This class of drugs are known to cause a wide variety of transient symptoms that occur with a frequency that is directly related to the dosage level. This means that albuterol for children is likely to induce anything from hypertension to unusual taste or dizziness, depending on the dosage, frequency of use, and age of the child.

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Discussion Comments
By anon316823 — On Jan 30, 2013

My son has an upper respiratory illness and my husband gave him several albuterol treatments. I was livid! I do not give medication unless absolutely necessary. I am wondering how safe it is to self medicate a child with albuterol.

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