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Asthma Medications

Asthma medication plays a key role in how well you control your condition. There are two main types of treatment, each geared toward a specific goal. 

  • Controller medications are the most important because they prevent asthma attacks. When you use these drugs, your airways are less inflamed and less likely to react to triggers.
  • Quick-relief medications -- also called rescue medications -- relax the muscles around your airway. If you have to use a rescue medication more than twice a week, your asthma isn’t well-controlled. But people who have exercise-induced asthma may use a quick-acting med called a beta-agonist before a workout.

The right medication should allow you to live an active and normal life. If your asthma symptoms aren’t controlled, ask your doctor to help you find a different treatment that works better.

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Long-Term Control Medications

These drugs are taken daily over a long time to get your asthma under control and keep it that way.

The most effective ones stop airway inflammation. Your doctor may suggest you combine an anti-inflammatory drug with other drugs such as:

  • Long-acting beta-agonists. A beta-agonist is a type of drug called a bronchodilator, which opens your airways.  
  • Leukotriene modifiers block chemicals that cause inflammation.
  • Mast cell stabilizers curb the release of chemicals that cause inflammation.
  • Theophylline is a bronchodilator used to prevent nighttime symptoms.
  • An immunomodulator is an injection given if you have moderate to severe asthma related to allergies that doesn’t respond to inhaled certain drugs.

Quick-Relief Asthma Drugs

These medications provide fast relief of asthma attack symptoms like cough, chest tightness, and wheezing. They include:

  • Short-acting beta-agonists (bronchodilators)
  • Anticholinergics. These are bronchodilators that can be paired with, or used instead of, short-acting beta-agonists.
  • Systemic corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory drugs that get symptoms under control quickly.

Inhalers, Nebulizers, and Pills as Asthma Medicine

There are a few ways to take asthma medications. Some are inhaled, using a metered dose inhaler, dry powder inhaler, or a nebulizer (which changes medication from a liquid to a mist). Others are taken by mouth, either in pill or liquid form. They can also be given by injection.

Some asthma drugs can be taken together. And some inhalers mix two different medications to get the drugs to your airways quicker.

Are There Over-the-Counter Asthma Drugs?

Yes. The most common over-the-counter (OTC) asthma drugs are Primatene Mist and Bronkaid. They both relax the muscles around your airways. They provide short-term relief (20-30 minutes), but don’t control symptoms or prevent asthma attacks. People with high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, or heart disease shouldn’t take them.

These aren’t long-term treatments and shouldn’t be relied upon daily to control your asthma. If you take an over-the-counter asthma drug and have frequent symptoms, talk to your doctor. Also let him know if you sometimes use OTC drugs along with your prescription. You don’t want to take more medicine than you need.

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