When asthma symptoms are in high gear and the wheezing and coughing sets in, it's the inhaler to the rescue -- the rescue inhaler, to be exact. If you have asthma, your rescue inhaler should be among the first things you reach for when you leave the house, along with your wallet and car keys.
How do rescue inhalers work, and why are they such a crucial part of managing asthma? WebMD consulted the experts to learn more about rescue inhalers, and the important role they play in asthma treatment.
For treating asthma symptoms, there are three types of bronchodilators: beta-agonists, anticholinergics, and theophylline. These bronchodilators are available in inhaled, tablet, liquid, and injectable forms, but the preferred method of taking the beta-agonists and anticholinergics is by inhalation.
What Are Short-Acting Bronchodilators?
Short-acting bronchodilators are called "quick-acting," "reliever," or "rescue" medications. These bronchodilators relieve acute asthma symptoms or attacks very quickly by opening the airways. The rescue medications are best for treating sudden asthma symptoms. The action of inhaled bronchodilators starts within minutes after inhalation and lasts for two to four hours. Short-acting bronchodilators are also used before exercise to prevent exercise-induced asthma.
Overuse of short-acting bronchodilators, whether in asthma inhalers, in tablets, or in liquid, is a sign of uncontrolled asthma that needs better treatment. If you need to use your short-acting bronchodilators more than twice a week, talk with your doctor about improving your asthma control therapy.
Short-Acting Bronchodilator Inhalers Available in the United States Include:
The long-acting bronchodilators are used to provide control -- not quick relief -- of asthma. They should only be used in conjunction with inhaled steroids for long-term control of asthma symptoms. The long-acting bronchodilators are used twice a day.
Long-Acting Bronchodilator Asthma Inhalers Available in the United States Include:
Advair, Dulera, and Symbicort (a combination of a long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilator and an inhaled steroid)
Long-acting beta-agonist bronchodilators increase the risk of death from asthma and should only be used as additional treatment for people who are also using an inhaled steroid. For details, talk to your doctor and see their black-box warning.