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ACAAI > Patients & Public > Asthma > Treatment

Asthma Treatment Options

Prevention is always the best strategy. A person with asthma should know what situations prompt an attack, such as exposure to allergens, respiratory infections and cold weather, and to avoid these situations whenever possible. If asthma attacks are severe, unpredictable or flare up more than twice a week, then asthma treatment with a long-term control medication is recommended. Long-term medications are preventive, taken daily and can achieve and maintain control of asthma symptoms.

Because inflammation of the lungs and airways plays a critical role in asthma, the most effective medications for long-term control have anti-inflammatory effects. Various forms of anti-inflammatory medication are available and should be discussed with a physician.

One of the most effective anti-inflammatory medications for controlling asthma is inhaled corticosteroids. Taken early and as directed, these medications can improve asthma control, normalize lung function, and possibly prevent irreversible injury to lung airways. Often a single dose taken daily is enough to control asthma. Other anti-inflammatory medications include cromolyn and nedocromil.

Other medications for long-term control of asthma are long-acting inhaled or oral bronchodilators (beta agonists), long-acting theophylline or regular use of oral corticosteroids. Combination therapy (inhaled corticosteroid plus a long-acting beta2-agonist) is the preferred treatment for asthma when inhaled corticosteroids alone do not control the disease.

Unless directed by a physician, asthma patients should never change or discontinue preventive medications, and should always keep an adequate supply available.

For people with allergic asthma, immunotherapy (allergy vaccinations) may offer relief from symptoms prompted by allergens that act as triggers and cannot be avoided. Immunotherapy increases a patient’s tolerance to the allergens that prompt asthma symptoms. A recent treatment option called anti-IgE stops an allergic reaction before it begins, helping prevent asthma attacks by blocking the antibody that causes the reaction. The treatment is approved for patients age 12 and older who have moderate-to-severe allergic asthma.

Are corticosteroids safe?

Taken as directed, inhaled corticosteroids are safe, well-tolerated and one of the most effective medications for asthma treatment. Some studies have suggested that inhaled corticosteroids may slightly reduce the rate of growth in children, perhaps by 1 centimeter per year. The reduction may be related to dosage and how long a child takes the drug. The long-term effects of any reduction in growth rate on final adult height is unknown.

Consequently, it is recommended that physicians use the lowest effective dose of these drugs and that they routinely monitor their patients’ growth rates. Patients should discuss any concerns with their child’s physician and never change or discontinue prescribed asthma medications unless advised by their doctor.

Is there a cure for asthma?

Although asthma symptoms are controllable, a cure for asthma has remained elusive. Preventive treatment, however, should minimize the difficulty an individual experiences with asthma, and allow a normal, active lifestyle.

When should a person see an allergist?

If an individual is having difficulty breathing or is coughing or wheezing, an allergist can help determine the cause of the condition and provide treatment that controls or eliminates the symptoms. Individuals should see an allergist if:

  • Breathing difficulties are interfering with daily activities
  • Breathing problems are decreasing the quality of their life
  • The warning signs of asthma, are present. These include:
    • shortness of breath
    • wheezing or coughing, especially at night or after exercise
    • tightness in the chest
    • frequent attacks of breathlessness, despite previous
    • diagnosis and treatment for asthma

An allergist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma and allergies. The allergist has passed a qualifying examination and is specially trained to identify the factors that trigger asthma or allergies, and help the patient prevent or treat the condition.

After earning a medical degree, the allergist completes a three-year residency training program in either internal medicine or pediatrics, followed by a two- or three-year program of study in the field of allergy and immunology. You can be certain that your physician has met these requirements if he or she is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

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