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Asthma in Teens and Adults - Medications

Medicine doesn't cure asthma. But it is an important part of managing it. Medicines for asthma treatment are used to:

  • Prevent and control airway inflammation camera.gif so you have fewer asthma symptoms.
  • Decrease how often you have asthma attacks, how long they last, and how severe they are.
  • Treat the attacks as they occur.

Asthma medicines are divided into two groups: those for prevention and long-term control of inflammation and those that provide quick relief for asthma attacks.

  • Long-term (controller) medicines are used daily for persistent asthma.
  • Quick-relief medicines are used as needed and provide rapid relief of symptoms during asthma attacks.

How to take asthma medicine

Most medicines for asthma are inhaled. Inhaled medicines are used because a specific dose can be given directly to the airways camera.gif.

Delivery systems include metered-dose and dry powder inhalers and nebulizers.

Doctors recommend using a spacer camera.gif with an MDI to better deliver the medicine to the lungs. For many people, a spacer makes an MDI easier to use.

actionset.gif Breathing Problems: Using a Metered-Dose Inhaler
actionset.gif Breathing Problems: Using a Dry Powder Inhaler

Medicine choices

The most important asthma medicines are:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids. These are the preferred controller medicines for long-term treatment of asthma. They reduce inflammation of your airways. You take them every day to keep asthma under control and to prevent sudden and severe symptoms (asthma attacks). They include budesonide, fluticasone, and mometasone.
  • Oral or injected corticosteroids (systemic corticosteroids). They get your asthma under control before you start taking daily medicine. You may also need these medicines to treat asthma attacks. Oral corticosteroids are used much more than injected corticosteroids. They include methylprednisolone and prednisone.
  • Short-acting beta2-agonists for asthma attacks. They relax the airways, allowing you to breathe easier. These quick-relief medicines include albuterol.

There are other long-term medicines for daily treatment. They include:

Other medicines may be given in some cases.

  • Anticholinergics (such as ipratropium) are usually used for severe asthma attacks.
  • Omalizumab may be used if asthma doesn't improve with standard treatment. Or your doctor may recommend this medicine if you have severe allergic asthma and your symptoms aren't relieved by avoiding allergens or taking other medicines.

A quick-relief medicine, racepinephrine (Asthmanefrin), is available without a prescription. This medicine isn't used with an inhaler. It comes with an atomizer that delivers the medicine as a mist.

Be safe with medicine. Read and follow all instructions on the label.

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