Understanding Your Medicines

There are a variety of medicines available to treat asthma. Each person’s asthma is different so it is important to work with your doctor and healthcare team to create the best plan for you, based upon your symptoms and your needs. By taking the right medicine at the right time, you can:

  • Breathe better
  • Do more of the things you want to do
  • Have fewer asthma symptoms
Many asthma treatments are available today. Some asthma medicines relax your airways and help you breathe easier, while other treatments reduce the swelling and inflammation in your airways. It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice about your treatment. Some medicines, called long-term or controller medicines, help prevent asthma symptoms. You need to take these medicines all the time, even when you feel well. Other medicines may be needed only if your asthma starts to get worse. If your asthma is getting worse, it’s important to start treatment early or as soon as your symptoms begin.

Long-term Controller Medicines vs. Quick-relief Medicines: What You Need to Know

  • Long-term control medicines (also called controller, maintenance, or anti-inflammatory medicines) help prevent asthma symptoms by controlling the swelling in your lungs and decreasing mucus production. These medicines help control your asthma for hours and can prevent asthma attacks. They must be taken regularly (even when you don’t have asthma symptoms) in order to work.
  • Quick-relief medicines (also called rescue medicines) relieve or stop asthma symptoms once they have started. They are inhaled and work to relax the muscles that tighten around your airways. When the muscles relax, your airways open up allowing you to breathe easier. Quick-relief medicines can be used before you exercise to avoid asthma symptoms.

Here are the types of medicines usually prescribed for asthma:

  • Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways (breathing tubes). When the airways are more open, it is easier to breathe. There are two general types of bronchodilators and you may be prescribed one or more types:

  • Short-acting bronchodilators work quickly after you take them so that you feel relief from symptoms quickly.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators have effects that last a long time. They should not be used for quick relief. These medicines are only recommended for use when combined with an anti-inflammatory asthma medicine (see below).
  • Anti-inflammatory Medicines

Anti-Inflammatory medicines help by reducing the swelling and mucus production inside the airways. When that inflammation is reduced, it is easier to breathe. These medicines are also called corticosteroids or steroids. Most often, these medicines are inhaled so it is important to rinse out your mouth with water immediately after using them to avoid getting a yeast infection in your throat called thrush.

Some corticosteroids are in pill form and usually are used for short periods of time in special circumstances, such as when your symptoms are getting worse.

  • Combination Medicines

There are a few medicines that combine inhaled bronchodilators and inhaled corticosteroids.