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Asthma Treatment: Steroids and Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

The key treatments for asthma are steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs. These asthma drugs both help to control asthma and prevent asthma attacks.

Steroids and other anti-inflammatory drugs work by reducing inflammation, swelling, and mucus production in the airways of a person with asthma. As a result, the airways are less inflamed and less likely to react to asthma triggers, allowing people with symptoms of asthma to have better control over their condition.

What Are the Main Types of Steroids and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs for Asthma?

The main types of anti-inflammatory drugs for better asthma control are steroids or corticosteroids. Other anti-inflammatory treatments include mast cell stabilizers, leukotriene modifiers, and immunomodulators.

What Are Inhaled Steroids?

Inhaled steroids are the mainstay treatment for controlling asthma. The use of inhaled steroids leads to:

  • Better asthma control
  • Fewer symptoms and flare-ups
  • Reduced need for hospitalization

Note that while inhaled steroids help prevent asthma symptoms, they do not relieve asthma symptoms during an attack. Dosages of inhaled steroids in asthma inhalers vary.

Inhaled steroids need to be taken daily for best results. Some improvement in asthma symptoms can be seen in 1 to 3 weeks after starting inhaled steroids, with the best results seen after 3 months of daily use.

Inhaled steroid medications for better asthma control include:

  • Advair (a combination drug that includes a steroid and a long-acting bronchodilator drug)
  • Aerobid
  • Arnuity Ellipta
  • Asmanex
  • Azmacort
  • Dulera (a combination drug that also includes a long-acting bronchodilator drug)
  • Flovent
  • Pulmicort
  • Symbicort (a combination drug that includes a steroid and a long-acting bronchodilator drug)
  • Qvar

Inhaled steroids come in three forms: the metered dose inhaler (MDI), dry powder inhaler (DPI), and nebulizer solutions.

What Are the Side Effects of Inhaled Steroids?

Inhaled steroids have few side effects, especially at lower doses. If you are taking higher doses, thrush (a yeast infection in the mouth) and hoarseness may occur, although this is rare. Rinsing the mouth, gargling after using the asthma inhaler, and using a spacer device with metered dose inhalers will help prevent these side effects. Thrush is easily treated with an antifungal mouthwash.

Inhaled steroids (asthma inhalers) are safe for adults and children. Side effects with these anti-inflammatory asthma inhalers are minimal. Your doctor will prescribe the lowest dose that effectively controls your child's or your asthma.

On a side note, many parents are concerned about giving their children "steroids." The inhaled steroids are not the same as anabolic steroids that some athletes take to build muscle. These steroids are anti-inflammatory drugs, the cornerstone of asthma therapy. There are many benefits of using anti-inflammatory asthma inhalers to self-manage asthma.

To learn more about using inhaled steroids in children, see WebMD's article on Childhood Asthma.

What Are the Benefits of Using Inhaled Steroids?

The benefits of inhaled steroids for better asthma control far exceed their risks, and include:

  • Reduced frequency of asthma attacks
  • Decreased use of beta-agonist bronchodilators (quick relief or rescue inhalers)
  • Improved lung function
  • Reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations for life-threatening asthma
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