Medicine doesn't cure
asthma. But it is an important part of managing it. Medicines for asthma treatment are used to:
- Prevent and control airway
inflammation so you have fewer asthma symptoms.
- Decrease how often you have
asthma attacks, how long they last, and how severe they are.
- Treat the attacks as they
Asthma medicines are divided into two groups: those for
prevention and long-term control of
inflammation and those that provide quick relief for
- Long-term (controller) medicines are used daily for
- Quick-relief medicines are used as needed and provide rapid relief of
symptoms during asthma attacks.
How to take asthma medicine
Most medicines for asthma are
inhaled. Inhaled medicines are used because a specific dose can
be given directly to the airways .
Delivery systems include metered-dose and dry powder
nebulizers. A metered-dose inhaler (MDI) is used most
Sometimes doctors recommend attaching a
spacer to an MDI to better deliver the medicine to the lungs. For many people, a spacer makes an MDI
easier to use.
- Asthma: Using a Metered-Dose Inhaler
- Asthma: Using a Dry Powder Inhaler
The most important asthma
- Inhaled corticosteroids. These are the
preferred controller medicines for long-term treatment of asthma. They reduce inflammation
of your airways. You take them every day to keep asthma under control and to
prevent sudden and severe symptoms (asthma attacks). They include mometasone, triamcinolone, fluticasone, budesonide, and
- Oral or injected corticosteroids (systemic
corticosteroids). They get your asthma under control before you start taking daily
medicine. You may also need these medicines to treat asthma attacks. Oral
corticosteroids are used much more than injected corticosteroids. They include prednisone and methylprednisolone.
- Short-acting beta2-agonists for asthma attacks. They
relax the airways, allowing you to breathe easier. These quick-relief medicines include
albuterol and pirbuterol.
There are other long-term medicines for daily treatment. They
Other medicines may be given in some cases.
- Anticholinergics (such as ipratropium) are usually
used for severe asthma attacks.
- Omalizumab may be used if asthma doesn't improve with
treatment. An asthma specialist typically prescribes this medicine.
The right medicine for you
Medicine treatment for asthma depends on your age and type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling your asthma
- The least amount of medicine that controls the asthma
symptoms is used.
- The amount of medicine and number of medicines
are increased in steps. So if asthma isn't controlled at a low dose of one
controller medicine, the dose may be increased. Or another medicine may be
- If the asthma has been under control for several months at a
certain dose of medicine, the dose may be reduced. This can help find the least
amount of medicine that will control the asthma.
medicine is used to treat asthma attacks. But if you need to use
quick-relief medicine a lot, the amount and number of controller medicines may
Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and
dose of medicines that work best.
What to think about
One of the best tools for managing asthma is a daily controller medicine that has a corticosteroid ("steroid"). But some people worry about taking steroid medicines because of myths they've heard about them. If you're making a decision about a steroid inhaler, it helps to know the facts.
At the start of asthma
treatment, the number and dosage of medicines are chosen to get the asthma
under control. Your doctor may start you at a higher dose within your asthma
classification so that the inflammation is controlled right away. After the asthma has been controlled for several months, the dose
of the last medicine added is reduced to the lowest possible dose that prevents
symptoms. This is known as step-down care. Step-down care is believed to be a
better way to control inflammation in the airways than starting at
lower doses of medicine and increasing the dose if it is not enough.18
Because quick-relief medicine quickly reduces
symptoms, people sometimes overuse these medicines instead of using the
slower-acting long-term medicines. But
overuse of quick-relief medicines may have harmful
effects, such as reducing how well these
medicines will work for you in the future.19
You may have to take more than one
medicine each day to manage your asthma. Help yourself remember when to take each medicine, such as taping a
note to your refrigerator to remind yourself.
Tell your doctor about all the medicines you
are taking, so he or she can choose asthma medicines that won't interfere with
Some people only have symptoms during certain
times of the year (seasonal asthma). If you know when you will most likely have
symptoms, start using a medicine to decrease inflammation before the symptoms