Albuterol Side Effects in Children

Asthma inhaler
Children often take albuterol for asthma. (Image: Roman Sigaev/Hemera/Getty Images)

Albuterol is a medication that is commonly used to treat acute asthma symptoms in children. Albuterol works by relaxing the bronchial muscles of the airways. It is often taken via an inhaler and begins working within just a few minutes of inhalation. It carries the risk of significant potential side effects in children, though many of the effects are much less common when albuterol is taken via inhaler.

Heart-related Side Effects

Children taking albuterol may experience an increase in heart rate and feel faster heartbeats, called palpitations. They may even experience chest pain, though this is a rare occurrence. Heart attacks have been reported as an extremely rare side effect. It is important to note that the few cases of heart attacks were in adults; however, because it is a theoretically possible effect, parents of children on albuterol need to be aware of this possibility.

Nervous System-related Side Effects

Children may experience nervousness and insomnia as side effects of this medication. A feeling of nervousness is more common than insomnia; paradoxically, sleepiness may also occur, though this occurs less than 2 percent of the time. The most common nervous system side effect is headache, which is experienced in about 7 percent of patients.

Digestive System-related Side Effects

Nausea is a common side effect, affecting as many as 10 percent of people taking albuterol. A strange, metallic taste in the mouth is also a potential effect that albuterol may have on a child's digestive system. In the commonly-prescribed inhaled form, a hoarse voice may be noticed as a side effect. An inflamed throat is a frequently experienced effect, as part of the inhaled albuterol also goes down the throat, leading to irritation.

Neuromuscular Side Effects

Neuromuscular effects are those which affect the nerves and muscles that are attached to the nerves. A child taking albuterol may notice a tremor; this is an uncontrollable fast shaking of a hand, an arm or a leg. This is due to the interaction between albuterol and the nerves of the hand or leg, and may require changes in dosage to control. Weakness and muscle cramping may also be experienced by a child taking albuterol.

Decreased Effectiveness

Since albuterol is generally an effective medication when used to treat the acute, immediate symptoms of asthma, it may seem logical to treat children with this medication on a long-term basis. A variety of studies, however, have shown that this actually has a paradoxical effect. According to a 2004 study published in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the effectiveness of beta agonists such as albuterol actually decreases with chronic use. So it is important that albuterol remain a short-term-use medication only.

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