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Asthma Medicine

Medicines play a key role in controlling asthma. Some help prevent asthma symptoms from getting worse or prevent flare-ups. Others treat symptoms when they occur. Always take your medicine as prescribed. And use the correct method. Know the names of your medicines. And know how and when to use them. If you have any questions about your medicines, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Man using metered-dose inhaler with spacer.

Quick-relief medicine

Quick-relief (also called rescue) medicines work by relaxing the muscles around the airways. This helps ease symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Keep your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times. These medicines:

  • Are inhaled when needed and only when needed. Use this medicine when you first notice your asthma is getting worse.

  • Start to open the airways a few minutes after you use them.

  • Can help stop a flare-up once it has begun.

  • May be used before exercise as directed by your provider.

Long-term control medicine

Long-term control (also called maintenance or controller) medicines help reduce airway swelling and inflammation. Some keep the muscles around your airways relaxed. This makes the airways less sensitive to triggers. Then they're less likely to flare up. These medicines:

  • Are taken on a schedule. For most people, this is every day. They're taken even when you feel fine.

  • Help keep asthma under control. So you’re less likely to have symptoms.

  • Won't stop a flare-up once it has begun.

Biologic therapy

Biologic therapy is a newer type of treatment. It's for people with moderate to severe asthma that isn't controlled with other medicines. Biologics target certain molecules in the body that cause inflammation and asthma symptoms. People treated with biologics may have fewer asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and emergency room visits. And they may have a better quality of life. Some biologics are approved for use in children. Others are only approved for adults. Biologics are often given by injection or infusion several weeks apart. Your provider will likely have you take this medicine for at least a few months to see how well it works. Side effects may include soreness at the injection site, headache, sore throat, and feeling tired. Your provider can help you know if biologics are right for you and what to expect with your specific medicine.

Inhaled corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids are generally safe for long-term use. They often don't cause serious side effects. That’s because they’re inhaled directly into the bronchial tubes in your lungs to open the airways. The chance of minor side effects can be lowered even more if you:

  • Use a spacer with your inhaler. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about using a spacer if you don't currently use one.

  • Rinse your mouth, gargle, and spit out the water after using your inhaled corticosteroid medicine.

  • Follow all instructions for cleaning inhalers and spacers.

  • Work with your provider to find the lowest dose that controls your asthma.

Tips for taking medicine

Remembering to take medicine each day can be hard for anyone. It can be even harder to remember when you don’t have symptoms. Try these tips:

  • Create a routine. For instance, take long-term controllers as part of getting ready for bed. Or before you brush your teeth in the morning. Or take them at both times.

  • Make sure you understand what long-term controllers do and don’t do.

  • Refill your prescriptions on time. Or refill them ahead of time. This is so you don’t run out.

  • Carry your quick-relief medicine with you. If you can, keep a spare quick-relief inhaler at work, at school, or in your gym bag.

  • When you travel, make sure you have enough medicine for your whole trip.

  • When traveling by air, keep your medicines with you. Don't pack them in your luggage.

  • Make sure you know how to tell if your inhaler is empty. Ask your provider or pharmacist. Or check the instructions that come with your inhaler.

Working with your healthcare provider

By working with your healthcare provider, you can get the most benefit from your medicine. Talk with your provider about:

  • Getting the right dose. Over time, your provider may raise or lower the dose of your controller medicine. The goal is to find the amount of medicine to keep asthma in control, without taking more than is needed.

  • Finding the right medicines for you. Each person is unique. It may take a few tries to find the right medicine or combination of medicines for you. If one medicine doesn’t work well for you, another may work better.

  • Reducing side effects. If you have side effects, don’t just stop taking your medicine. Instead, call your provider. A new medicine or change in the amount of medicine may solve the problem.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Deborah Pedersen MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2022
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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