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Asthma Medications


Asthma Drugs for Long-Term Control

Doctors and asthma specialists recognize that asthma has two main components: airway inflammation and acute bronchoconstriction (narrowing of the airways). Research has shown that reducing and preventing further inflammation is the key to preventing asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and death from asthma.

Long-term control drugs are taken daily over an extended period of time to achieve and maintain control of asthma.

The most effective long-term control drugs are those that stop airway inflammation (anti-inflammatory drugs), but there are others that are often used along with anti-inflammatory drugs to enhance their effect.

Controller medications include:

  • Corticosteroids (inhaler medication that is a mainstay treatment) 
  • Long-acting beta-agonists (bronchodilators that should only be used along with an inhaled steroid in people with asthma )
  • Leukotriene modifiers (block chemical involved in inflammation)
  • Mast cell stabilizers (curbs the release of chemicals involved in inflammation)
  • Theophylline (a bronchodilator used especially to prevent nighttime symptoms)
  • Immunomodulator (injectable treatment used in people with moderate to severe asthma related to allergies that don't respond to inhaled corticosteroids)


Quick-Relief Asthma Drugs

These asthma drugs are used to provide prompt relief of asthma attack symptoms (cough, chest tightness, and wheezing -- all signs of airway bronchoconstriction).

These asthma drugs include:

  • Short acting beta-agonists (bronchodilators that are the drug of choice to relieve asthma attacks and prevent exercise-induced asthma symptoms)
  • Anticholinergics (bronchodilators used in addition to short-acting beta-agonists when needed or as an alternative to these drugs when needed)
  • Systemic corticosteroids (an anti-inflammatory drug used in an emergency to get rapid control of the disease while initiating other treatments and to speed recovery)

Inhalers, Nebulizers, and Pills as Asthma Medicine

Asthma medicines can be either inhaled, using a metered dose inhaler, dry powder inhaler, or a nebulizer, or taken orally, either in pill or liquid form. Medications can also be given by injection.

Some asthma drugs can be taken together. There are some inhalers that contain a combination of two different medications. These devices allow both medications to be delivered from one device, shortening treatment times and decreasing the number of inhalers needed to treat asthma symptoms.

Are There Over-the-Counter Asthma Drugs?

Yes. The most common over-the-counter asthma drugs are Primatene Mist and Bronkaid. They both work like a bronchodilator, relaxing the muscles around the airways. They provide short-term relief (20-30 minutes), but do not control asthma symptoms or prevent asthma attacks. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or heart disease should not take Primatene Mist or Bronkaid.

Unfortunately, many people misuse or overuse these asthma treatments. The over-the-counter drugs are not meant for long-term use, yet some people use them every day to relieve asthma symptoms. Because they do not control asthma, people who take them may not be receiving proper treatment of their asthma.

If you are using an over-the-counter asthma drugs and are still experiencing frequent asthma symptoms, talk to your doctor. And if you are taking prescribed asthma drugs but are using over-the-counter medications occasionally, tell your doctor this, as well. You do not want to be taking more medicine than you need.

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