Asthma medications: Know your options
Asthma medications: Know your options
Asthma medications play an important role in managing signs and symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Long-term control medications keep your symptoms at bay on a day-to-day basis. Quick-relief (rescue) medications treat asthma symptoms once they start. If your asthma is triggered by allergies, you may need to take allergy medications along with asthma medications to help control your symptoms.
You'll need to work closely with your doctor to determine which asthma medications work best for you. Your age, your symptoms, the severity of your asthma and medication side effects all play a role in choosing the type and dose of asthma medications you need. Because everyone's different and asthma changes over time, you'll need to work with your doctor to track your symptoms and make adjustments to your asthma medications as needed.
Types of asthma medications
Long-term control medications
Many people with asthma need to take long-term control medications on a daily basis. You take these medications even when you don't have symptoms. There are several types of long-term control medications. They include the following types.
In children, long-term use of inhaled corticosteroids may slightly delay growth, but the benefits of using these medications to maintain good asthma control generally outweighs the risks. Regular use of inhaled corticosteroids helps asthma attacks and other problems linked to poorly controlled asthma.
Corticosteroids don't generally cause serious side effects. When they do occur, side effects can include mouth and throat irritation and oral yeast infections. If you're using a metered dose inhaler, use a spacer and rinse your mouth with water after each use. This reduces the amount of drug that can be swallowed and absorbed into your body.
In rare cases, these medications have been linked to psychological reactions such as agitation, aggression, hallucinations, depression and suicidal thinking. See your doctor right away if you have any unusual reaction.
Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs)
Combination inhalers: Corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists
As with other LABA medications, these inhalers may increase your risk of having a severe asthma attack and should be used with caution.
These asthma medications open the lungs by relaxing airway muscles. They're often called rescue medications because they can ease worsening symptoms or stop an asthma attack in progress. They begin working within minutes and are effective for four to six hours. For some people, using a quick-relief inhaler before exercise helps prevent shortness of breath and other asthma symptoms.
Quick-relief medications include:
If your symptoms are minor and infrequent, or you have exercise-induced asthma, you may be able to manage your symptoms with one of these medications alone. However, most people with persistent asthma need to rely primarily on an inhaled corticosteroid or other long-term control medication. Short-acting asthma medications are often used to treat asthma attacks and exercise-induced asthma, but you shouldn't use them on a regular, daily basis. If you need to use your inhaler more often than your doctor recommends, your asthma is not under control — and you may be increasing your risk of a serious asthma attack.
Short-acting asthma medications are usually taken with an inhaler, but are sometimes taken as pills or syrup.
Oral corticosteroids for serious asthma attacks
Long-term use of these medications can cause side effects including cataracts, thinning bones (osteoporosis), muscle weakness, decreased resistance to infection, high blood pressure and reduced growth in children.
Medications for asthma triggered by allergies
Medications that focus on treating allergy triggers include:
Making the most of your asthma medications
With your doctor or other health care providers, write a detailed plan for taking long-term control medications and for managing an asthma attack. Then, carefully follow your plan. Know when to adjust your medications, when to see your doctor and how to recognize an asthma emergency. Carefully tracking symptoms and side effects — and adjusting your treatment accordingly — is the key to keeping your symptoms under control. If your doctor has prescribed a peak flow meter to measure how well your lungs are working, use it according to your plan. Even if you feel well, keep taking your medications as prescribed and tracking your symptoms until you talk to your doctor.
Last Updated: 2010-06-10
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