While avoiding triggers is the first approach to asthma management, medicines will help keep your symptoms under control. It is very important that you use the medicines correctly, and at the correct intervals as prescribed.
Four classes of medicines are most commonly used to treat asthma symptoms. Your medical provider will choose one or more of these medicines based on the causes and severity of your asthma symptoms. Most of the medicines are inhaled so that the maximum effects go straight to the airways. To improve the dose of the inhaled medicine that gets to your lungs, your medical provider may prescribe a spacer device to be attached to the inhaler.
Short-acting inhaled bronchodilators (e.g.,Ventolin, Albuterol, Proventil)
These rescue or quick-relief medicines act on the smooth muscle lining the airways to help reverse the spasm and narrowing of the airways. The effects are felt immediately. This medicine may be prescribed on a regular basis, or as needed for symptoms which are intermittent. You may feel a little jittery, light-headed or racy after starting this medicine. These symptoms usually diminish with subsequent doses.
If your symptoms are not relieved with the prescribed inhalations, call your medical provider. Do not exceed the prescribed number of inhalations. If you need this rescue medicine more than 6 times in one day to control asthma attacks, you need immediate help from your medical provider.
Sometimes short-acting bronchodilaotrs are prescribed for use 20 minutes before exercise to control exercise induced asthma symptoms.
Long-acting inhaled bronchodilators (e.g., Serevent)
These medications have the same action on the airways as short-acting bronchodilators but deliver that effect over a prolonged period, often making them useful for people with nighttime symptoms. They are not to be used for quick relief of asthma symptoms and should never be used more often than prescribed.
Steroids (e.g., Flovent, Beclovent, Vanceril, Aerobid)
These medicines reverse the inflammation in the airways which is present in patients with chronic asthma symptoms.
Inhaled steroids need to be used on a regular, ongoing basis to be effective. They have no effect on acute shortness of breath and should not be used on an intermittent basis. Remember to rinse out your mouth with water after each use of inhaled steroids.
In some cases, your asthma symptoms may be severe enough to require a short course of oral steroids to decrease inflammation. Oral steroids are best taken in the morning. Be sure to take this medication exactly as prescribed.
Combination asthma medication (e.g., Advair, Symbicort)
Inhaled steroids are sometimes prescribed in combination with long-acting broncholdilators. It is important not to use these more often than prescribed by your provider, as excessive doses of long-acting agends can have serious side effects.
Leukotiene receptor antagonists (e.g., Singulaire)
These oral medicines are sometimes additionally used to improve asthma control, and for exercise-induced symptoms.
Cromolyn products (e.g., Intal, Alocril)
This class of medicines is sometimes used for prevention of exercise-induced asthma symptoms or predictable allergic exposures (e.g., visiting a home with a cat).