If you or a loved one has asthma, you should know about the most effective asthma treatments for short-term relief and long-term control. Understanding asthma treatments will enable you to work with your asthma doctor to confidently manage your asthma symptoms daily. When you do have an asthma attack or asthma symptoms, it's important to know when to call your doctor or asthma specialist to prevent an asthma emergency. Be sure to read all the in-depth articles that link to topics within each of the following sections. By doing so, you will gain new insight into asthma and how it's treated.
Asthma medications can save your life -- and let you live an active life in spite of your asthma. There are two basic types of drugs used in asthma treatment:
Steroids and Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
Anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly inhaled steroids, are the most important treatment for most people with asthma. These lifesaving medications prevent asthma attacks and work by reducing swelling and mucus production in the airways. As a result, the airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to asthma triggers and cause asthma symptoms.
For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Asthma, Steroids, and Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.
Bronchodilators and Asthma
Bronchodilators relieve the symptoms of asthma by relaxing the muscles that can tighten around the airways. This helps to open up the airways.
Short-acting bronchodilator inhalers are often referred to as rescue inhalers and are used to quickly relieve the cough, wheeze, chest tightness, and shortness of breath caused by asthma. They may also be used prior to exercise for people with exercise-induced asthma. These should not be used daily in the routine treatment of asthma. If you need to use a short-acting bronchodilator as a rescue inhaler more than twice a week, then your asthma is not optimally controlled. Ask your doctor about improving your asthma controller medication.
Long-acting bronchodilators are used in combination with inhaled steroids for control of asthma symptoms or when someone has ongoing asthma symptoms despite treatment with a daily inhaled steroid. Long-acting bronchodilators are never used alone as long-term therapy for asthma.
For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Bronchodilators: Airway Openers.
Asthma inhalers are the most common and effective way to deliver asthma drugs to the lungs. They are available in different types that require different techniques for use. Some inhalers deliver one medication and others contain two different medications.
For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Asthma Inhalers.
If you’re having difficulty using small inhalers, your doctor may prescribe an asthma nebulizer, also known as a breathing machine. The asthma nebulizer uses a mouthpiece or mask and is typically used for infants, small children, older adults, or anyone who has difficulty using inhalers with spacers. The nebulizer changes asthma medications from a liquid to a mist, so that they can be more easily inhaled into the lungs. This takes a few more minutes than using inhalers.
For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Asthma Nebulizer (Breathing Machine).