Asthma Treatments

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

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 sometimes 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.

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Asthma Inhalers

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.

Asthma Nebulizer

If you’re having difficulty using small inhalers, your doctor may prescribe an asthma nebulizer . This machine has 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).

Prednisone and Asthma Attacks

If you have a serious asthma attack (exacerbation), your doctor may prescribe a short course of oral corticosteroids. When used orally for less than two weeks, the side effects of corticosteroids are less likely, but when used for many months, they can have a serious and permanent effect. After the severe symptoms of your asthma attack have been successfully treated and controlled, your doctor will work with you to minimize your need for prednisone in the future. Faithfully taking an inhaled corticosteroid every day is the most commonly successful method to do this.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Prednisone and Asthma.

Talk to Your Asthma Specialist

If you have been diagnosed with asthma but your treatment no longer seems to work, it is time to check in with your doctor again. Likewise, if you've been diagnosed with asthma and you have symptoms that require you to use your rescue inhaler too frequently, go see your asthma doctor. You may need a change to your asthma medication regimen for better control. Your doctor can determine the problem -- and solution -- so you feel better and breathe right.

While asthma is a common disease, it is a serious condition that demands a proper medical diagnosis and targeted asthma treatment. Get help for asthma. Talk to your doctor for asthma support and find the asthma drugs that work best for you.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on January 20, 2015

Sources

SOURCES:
American Academy of Family Physicians: Family Doctor: "Asthma: Learning to Control Your Symptoms."
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: "AAAI Allergy & Asthma Medication Guide.
"Asthma G.A.P. in America: General Awareness and Perceptions," a telephone survey conducted with 3,042 adults in 2007.
News release, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

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