The Cleveland Clinic

Asthma Medications

Asthma medication plays a key role in gaining good control of your asthma. Asthma is a chronic (lifelong) disease that involves inflammation of the airways superimposed with recurrent episodes of decreased airflow, mucus production, and cough. Choosing the proper asthma medication is crucial in avoiding asthma attacks and living an active life.

Treatment with asthma medication focuses on:

  • Taking asthma medication that controls inflammation and prevents chronic symptoms such as coughing or breathlessness at night, in the early morning, or after exertion (long-term control medications)

  • Providing asthma medication to treat asthma attacks when they occur (quick-relief asthma medication)

  • Avoiding asthma triggers

  • Monitoring daily asthma symptoms in an asthma diary

  • Monitoring peak flows with daily asthma tests

There are two general types of asthma medication which can give you long-term control or quick relief of symptoms.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs. This is the most important type of therapy for most people with asthma because these asthma medications prevent asthma attacks on an ongoing basis. Steroids, also called "corticosteroids," are an important type of anti-inflammatory medication for people suffering from asthma. These asthma medications reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. As a result, airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to triggers.

  • Bronchodilators. These asthma medications relieve the symptoms of asthma by relaxing the muscle bands that tighten around the airways. This action rapidly opens the airways, letting more air come in and out of the lungs. As a result, breathing improves. Bronchodilators also help clear mucus from the lungs. As the airways open, the mucus moves more freely and can be coughed out more easily.

These asthma medications can be administered in different ways. Successful treatment should allow you to live an active and normal life. If your asthma symptoms are not in good control, you should contact your doctor for advice and look at a different asthma medication that may work best for you.

NOTE: A newer asthma medication, called Xolair, works by inhibiting the allergic reaction that often causes constriction of the airways. It works by blocking proteins in the immune system from becoming activated, an underlying cause of allergic asthma symptoms.

Long-Term Control Asthma Medications

Comment on this

Doctors and asthma specialists recognize that asthma has two main components: airway inflammation and acute bronchoconstriction (constriction of the airways). Research has shown that reducing and preventing further inflammation is the key to preventing asthma attacks, hospitalizations, and death from asthma.

Long-term control asthma medications are taken daily over an extended period of time to achieve and maintain control of persistent asthma (asthma that causes symptoms more than twice a week and frequent attacks that affect activity).

The most effective long-term control asthma medications are those that stop airway inflammation (anti-inflammatory drugs), but there are others that are often used along with anti-inflammatory drugs to enhance their effect.

Long-term control asthma medications include:

  • Corticosteroids (The inhaled form is the anti-inflammatory drug of choice for persistent asthma.)

  • Mast cell stabilizers (anti-inflammatory drugs)

  • Long acting beta-agonists (bronchodilators often used along with an anti-inflammatory drug)

  • Theophylline (a bronchodilator used along with an anti-inflammatory drug to prevent nighttime symptoms)

  • Leukotriene modifiers (an alternative to steroids and mast cell stabilizers)

  • Xolair (an injectable asthma medication used when inhaled steroids for asthma failed to control asthma symptoms in people with moderate to severe asthma who also have allergies)

© 2005-2014 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.
Source article on WebMD

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Asthma Medications - Experience Question: Please describe your experience with asthma medications.
Asthma Medications - Inhalers and Medications Question: Discuss your experience using inhalers, nebulizers and other types of asthma medication.
Asthma Medications - Allergy Shots Question: Do you receive allergy shots to treat your asthma? Please share your experience.


Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!