There are many effective medicines to treat asthma. Most people with asthma need two kinds: quick-relief medicines and long-term control medicines. Immunotherapy (allergy shots) can also be helpful.
Patients may be reluctant to take medication because of cost or the potential side effects. If you have such concerns, talk with your allergist. Your allergist will work with you to find the right medicine, or combination of medicines, to manage your asthma and will adjust the dosage based on your symptoms and control. The goal is to have you feel your best with the least amount of medicine.
Quick-relief medicines are taken at the first sign of symptoms for immediate relief:
- Short-acting inhaled beta2-agonists
Both types of drugs are bronchodilators, meaning that they expand the passageways into the lungs (the bronchi), allowing more air in and out and improving breathing. They also help to clear mucus from the lungs by enabling the mucus to move more freely and get coughed out more easily.
If you have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB), also known as exercise-induced asthma, your allergist may recommend that you use these medicines before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
Quick-relief medicines can stop asthma symptoms, but they do not control the airway inflammation that causes the symptoms. If you find that you need your quick-relief medicine to treat asthma symptoms more than twice a week, or two or more nights a month, then your asthma is not well controlled.
Long-term control medicines are taken every day to prevent symptoms and attacks:
- Antileukotrienes or leukotriene modifiers
- Cromolyn sodium and nedocromil
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Long-acting inhaled beta2-agonists (always administered with another asthma-related drug)
- Oral corticosteroids
These medicines are taken every day, even if you do not have symptoms. The most effective long-term control medicines reduce airway inflammation and help improve asthma control.
Corticosteroids and health risks
Steroids are powerful drugs that can be dangerous when not taken as prescribed. The best available medical research shows that when taken as directed, inhaled corticosteroids — a kind of steroid — are safe and well tolerated, and are 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 (less than half an inch) per year. The reduction may be related to dosage and the length of time the child takes the drug. The long-term effects of any reduction in growth rate on final adult height is unknown. Any allergist prescribing corticosteroids to treat a child with asthma will recommend the lowest effective dose of these drugs and will monitor the child’s growth.
Your allergist will work with you to find the right medicine, or combination of medicines, to manage your asthma, and will adjust the dosage based on your symptoms and control. The goal is to have you feel your best with the least amount of medicine.
Discuss any concerns with your child’s allergist. Never change or discontinue prescribed asthma medications unless advised by your or your child’s doctor.