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Taking the Right Asthma Medicine at the Right Time

Long-term Treatment for Asthma

The Long-Term-Control Asthma Medicines

The most effective long-term-control medicines are those that reduce swelling in your airways (inflammation). These medicines include inhaled steroids, cromolyn, and nedocromil.

  • Inhaled steroids and steroid tablets or liquids are the strongest long-term-control medicines. The steroids used for asthma are NOT the same as the unsafe steroids some athletes take to build muscles. Inhaled steroids are used to prevent symptoms and control mild, moderate, and severe asthma. Inhaled steroids are safe when taken at recommended doses. This is because the medicine goes right to your lungs where you need it. This reduces the amount of medicine you need and the chance of any side effects. Steroid tablets or liquids are used safely for short times to quickly bring asthma under control. They are also used longer term to control the most severe asthma.
  • Cromolyn and nedocromil are often the choice of medicine for children with mild asthma.
  • Inhaled long-acting beta¬≤ are used to help control moderate-to-severe asthma and to prevent nighttime symptoms. Long-acting beta2-agonists do not reduce inflammation. Therefore, patients taking this medicine also need to take inhaled steroids. Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists should not be used for quick relief of asthma attacks.
  • Sustained-release theophylline or sustained-release beta¬≤ tablets can help prevent nighttime symptoms. These medicines are used with inhaled steroids, nedocromil, or cromolyn. Theophylline is sometimes used by itself to treat mild asthma. The dose for theophylline must be checked over time to prevent side effects.
  • Zileuton and zafirlukast are a more recent type of long-term-control medicine. Studies so far show that it is used mainly for mild asthma in patients 12 years of age and older.

Quick-Relief Asthma Medicines Are Taken Only When Needed

Inhaled quick-relief medicine quickly relaxes and opens your airways and relieves asthma symptoms. But it only helps for about 4 hours. Quick-relief medicine cannot keep symptoms from coming back - only long-term-control medicines can do that. Take quick-relief medicine when you first begin to feel symptoms - like coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. Your doctor may tell you to use a peak flow meter to help you know when to take your inhaled quick-relief medicines. Do not delay taking your quick-relief medicine when you have symptoms. This can keep you from having a really bad asthma attack. Tell your doctor if you notice you are using more of this medicine than usual. This is often a sign that your long-term-control medicine needs to be changed or increased.

Make an Asthma Action Plan With Your Doctor

Ask your doctor to help you fill out an Asthma Action Plan. Be sure you know when to take your medicine and what to do when your asthma gets worse.

Source: National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health

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