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Asthma: The Rescue Inhaler -- Now a Cornerstone of Asthma Treatment

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Rescue Inhalers: Don't Overdue It

While it may be tempting for a person with asthma to use a rescue inhaler as a crutch -- taking two or more puffs several times a day to curb symptoms and manage the disease -- rescue inhalers provide only temporary relief.

Research has shown that for many, asthma is a chronic, damaging, inflammatory condition that needs to be treated with chronic, anti-inflammatory inhaled treatment.

"The big clue that we've learned over the years is that if you have to use a rescue inhaler often -- waking up more than two nights a month or having to use it more than two times a week -- you ought to be on something that gives you more protection," says Honsinger. "These drugs just help you for the moment -- they don't keep the increased mucus away or the scarring of the lung away. For that you need something that gives you better protection and longer action that decreases the inflammation of the lung, like an inhaled corticosteroid or a leukotriene inhibitor."

Longer-acting asthma medications prevent symptoms before they occur by reducing airway inflammation. With asthma under control, there's a reduced dependency on the rescue inhaler. And when the one-two punch of long-term therapy and rescue inhalers fails, it's time to see a doctor.

"With a rescue inhaler, the key word is rescue," says Christopher Randolph, MD, a clinical professor at Yale University and a physician at the Center for Allergy and Immunology in Waterbury, Conn. "If you're on long-term therapy like inhaled coritcosteroids, and you still have to use your rescue inhaler more than several times in a period of an hour or two, especially overnight, you need to consult a physician and probably go on oral steroids for a short period of time."

It is also important to note that rescue inhalers can carry side effects, including nervousness, increased heart rate, restlessness, and insomnia

The Evolution of the Rescue Inhaler

Treating asthma symptoms with beta-agonist bronchodilators has been a standard part of asthma care since the 1980s -- providing new hope for people who, up until that time, had few ways to manage their symptoms.

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