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What Are the Pros and Cons of Albuterol in Infants?

By J. Beam
Updated Feb 09, 2024
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Infants and young children who suffer from acute respiratory distress are often given albuterol to relieve wheezing and breathing difficulties. Albuterol is a bronchodilator, a medication that relaxes constricted airways to make breathing easier. It is also sometimes used as a method of controlling asthma, or reactive airway disease. The use of albuterol in infants and young children is considered to be safe and beneficial in certain circumstances, though there is some risk of side effects. The pros and cons should be weighed with the child’s pediatrician or primary care physician.

Alubterol comes in the liquid, tablet, and metered inhaler forms. As a liquid, albuterol can be used in a nebulizer, a special machine that turns the liquid into a vapor so that it can be breathed in through a mask or cup-like attachment. This is the most common form of administration for the use of albuterol in babies. Infants with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are often given this medication as a form of treatment. As an inhaled medication, albuterol works quickly to relieve symptoms associated with respiratory distress. Metered inhalers, such as rescue inhalers, are best reserved for older children who can better control and coordinate their breathing.

In addition to ease of administration, the use of albuterol in infants and young children is considered effective and relatively safe, which is the primary advantage. Albuterol can have side effects, some of which can be particularly distressing to parents of infants and young children. Alubterol is a stimulant, and while it encourages relaxation of the bronchial tubes, it may not result in relaxation of the whole body. In fact, one of the more common side effects of albuterol in babies and young children is restlessness, jitteriness, and occasionally mild tremors. Other side effects include nausea, headache and diarrhea. The risk of side effects is lessened with smaller doses and is typically less frequent with the inhaled form over ingested forms.

Another use of albuterol in infants is to treat bronchopulmonary dyplasia (BPD), a condition that may result from prolonged use of a ventilator in premature babies. While most infants outgrow BPD with little trouble, breathing can be difficult during the first few months and can be effectively alleviated with albuterol treatments. Again, side effects are possible, but the risk is lessened with the inhaled form of medication.

Though typically not a problem, additional stimulants such as caffeine should be avoided while using albuterol in infants and young children. Fortunately, there are no known interactions between albuterol and children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen, the two most common over-the-counter drugs used to treat fever in children. Parents should always check with their doctor or pharmacist about other possible drug interactions. Should serious side effects occur while using albuterol in infants, including prolonged nervousness and excitability, rapid heart rate, or vomiting, check with a doctor. Any other concerns about the use of this medication or noticeable side effects should also be discussed with the prescribing physician.

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Discussion Comments
By fBoyle — On Dec 15, 2013

@SarahGen-- Yea, that's one of the downsides of albuterol. But the good thing is that these side effects don't last very long. I remember with my son, he was only jittery for about ten minutes after receiving the medication.

Try not to give the albuterol before sleep time because then, it makes it difficult for the child to fall asleep and get rest. Try to use the medication at least a few hours before bedtime so that she can fall asleep easily.

By SarahGen — On Dec 14, 2013

My baby was diagnosed with bronchitis a few days ago and has to take albuterol. I think the medication is working well, but it does make her jittery and wired up. She does calm down eventually but I think it tires her out more.

By ysmina — On Dec 13, 2013

@jvillanueva-- My son had to use albuterol with a nebulizer as well when he was young. He was still an infant then. He had trouble breathing at times because he was born premature. His doctor suggested that we get a nebulizer the first time we went in because of his wheezing. He had to be given albuterol almost daily during the first several months.

I was very scared in the beginning, but got used to it later. Thankfully, we never experienced any negative side effects from the medication.

By DevenSet — On Dec 10, 2013

When my daughter was only 4 years old, the doctor prescribed albuterol because she was wheezing. At first, we tried the inhaler, but she was not able to get the right amount of albuterol because she didn't want to breathe through the spacer. We then had to use the nebulizer machine. We let her watch television while she was breathing through the mask, and she was able to comfortably get the correct amount of albuterol.

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