Asthma Treatments

If you or a loved one has asthma, you should know about the most effective treatments for short-term relief and long-term control. Understanding asthma treatments will help you and your asthma doctor confidently manage your asthma symptoms daily. When you do have symptoms or an asthma attack, it's important to know when to call your doctor to prevent an asthma emergency.

Asthma Action Plan

You and your doctor will work together to create an action plan. It can be written or online. Either way, it will guide your efforts to control your condition with information and instructions on:

  • How to know if your symptoms get worse
  • Medicines to take when you’re doing well and when symptoms get worse
  • What to do in an emergency
  • Doctor contact info for an emergency
  • How to control asthma triggers

Rescue Inhalers (or Quick-Relief Inhalers)

These are medications you breathe in. You use them to ease asthma symptoms when they happen. They relax the muscles that tighten around the airways. This helps to open them up so you can breathe easier. If you’re using this type of medication more than 2 days a week, see your doctor. These medications include:

  • Short-acting beta-agonists, which are the first choice for quick relief of asthma symptoms.
  • Anticholinergics to reduce mucus in addition to opening your airways. They take longer to work than short-acting beta-agonists.
  • Oral corticosteroids to lower swelling in your airways
  • Combination quick-relief medicines contain both an anticholinergic and a short-acting beta-agonist. If you can’t use an inhaler, you might get them from a nebulizer, a machine that helps you breathe in medicine.

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Preventative, Long-Term Medications

These medications work over the long term to treat symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. They reduce swelling and mucus in your airways. As a result, the airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to asthma triggers. They include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids to prevent swelling. They also reduce mucus in your lungs. They’re the most effective long-term control medicines. Corticosteroids aren’t the same as anabolic steroids people use to grow muscle.
  • Inhaled long-acting beta-agonists to open your airways by relaxing the smooth muscles around them. You’ll take this medication along with an inhaled corticosteroid.
  • Combination inhaled medicines, which pair an inhaled corticosteroid with a long-acting beta-agonist. This is an easy way to take them together.
  • Biologics that target a cell or protein in your body to prevent airway inflammation. They can either be shots or infusions you get every few weeks. They’re expensive, so you usually get them if other medications don’t work.
  • Leukotriene modifiers to relax the smooth muscles around your airways and ease swelling. You can take them as pills or liquids.
  • Cromolyn, which prevents your airways from swelling when they come into contact with an asthma trigger. It’s a non-steroid medicine that comes in an inhaler.
  • Theophylline to relax the smooth muscles that narrow your airways. It comes as a tablet, capsule, solution, or syrup to take by mouth.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators. You might use these along with corticosteroids if you have ongoing asthma symptoms despite treatment with a daily inhaled steroid. Never use long-acting bronchodilators alone as a long-term asthma treatment.
  • Oral corticosteroids. If no other medicine can get your asthma attacks under control, your doctor might have you take these medications for a couple of weeks. They come in pills or liquids.

How Do You Take Asthma Medications?

Asthma Inhalers

Asthma inhalers are the most common and effective way to deliver asthma medicine to the lungs. They’re available in several types that work in different ways. Some deliver one medication. Others contain two different medications.

Asthma Nebulizer

If you’re having trouble using small inhalers, your doctor may prescribe an asthma nebulizer. This machine changes asthma medications from a liquid to a mist so it’s easier to get the medicine into your lungs. It also has a mouthpiece or mask that makes it a good option for infants, small children, older adults, or anyone who has trouble using inhalers with spacers. It does take a few more minutes than using an inhaler.

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Other Asthma Treatments

Medications aren’t the only way to control asthma. Your doctor might try:

Bronchial thermoplasty. People with asthma often have extra smooth muscle in their airway walls. In this procedure, the doctor uses a small tube known as a bronchoscope to send heat to the walls and reduce the smooth muscle. You’ll get the treatment over three visits about 2 or 3 weeks apart.

Alternative Asthma Treatments

In addition to following your treatment plan, you can try:

  • Breathing exercises. These can lower the amount of medication you need to control your symptoms.
  • Herbal and natural remedies. Things that may help improve asthma symptoms include:
  • Black seed oil (Nigella sativa). Some studies have shown it can help open airways.
  • Caffeine. It’s a mild bronchodilator (meaning it can open your airways), but it doesn’t work as fast as medications. Avoid if for several hours before any doctor’s appointment that might include a lung function test.
  • Choline. This substance helps with bodily functions. You can get it in meat, liver, eggs, poultry, fish, shellfish, peanuts, and cauliflower or from a supplement.
  • Pycnogenol. You can get this pine bark extract as a supplement.

Avoid Asthma Triggers

Many things in the environment can set off an asthma attack. By keeping them under control, you can lower your chances of having an attack. Common triggers include:

  • Pet dander. If you can’t live without a pet, at least keep them out of your bedroom.
  • Dust mites. Wash your bedding in hot water, vacuum furniture, and get rid of carpets if you can. Get someone else to vacuum if you can. Use a dust mask if you do it.
  • Pollen and outdoor mold. Keep windows closed. Stay inside from late morning to afternoon.
  • Tobacco smoke. If you smoke, get help to quit. Don’t let others smoke in your home or car.
  • Cockroaches. Keep food and garbage in closed containers, and treat your house for pests. Stay out of the room until fumes go away.
  • Cold air. Cover your mouth and nose in cold weather.
  • Indoor mold. Fix leaky pipes, and clean moldy surfaces with bleach.

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Talk to Your Asthma Specialist

If you’ve been diagnosed with asthma but your treatment no longer seems to work, it’s time to see your doctor again. Likewise, if your symptoms require you to use your rescue inhaler too often, see your doctor. You may need to change your asthma treatment for better control.

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

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on April 29, 2019

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.

National Jewish Health: “Bronchial Thermoplasty.”

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: “Asthma Action Plan.”

Mayo Clinic: “Asthma.”

Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal: “Medicinal benefits of Nigella sativa in bronchial asthma: A literature review.”

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: “AAFA Explains: Will Coffee or Caffeinated Drinks Help My Asthma?”

National Institutes of Health: “Choline.”

Panminerva Medica: “Pycnogenol® improvements in asthma management.”

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