There is no cure for asthma, but many measures are available to help people control the condition and improve their quality of life.

Treatment focuses on a person keeping their chronic symptoms in check and avoiding triggers while receiving relief during severe flare-ups.

Doctors call a flare-up of asthma symptoms an asthma attack, and their treatment tries to limit further attacks and reduce the need for rapid medication.

Also, treatment aims to restore and maintain a person’s lung function, activity levels, and sleep patterns.

In this article, we explore the management options for asthma.

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Asthma care places responsibility for treatment with both the doctor and the individual with the condition.

Avoiding asthma triggers is a primary way to reduce the risk of a severe attack and chronic symptoms.

Asthma action plan

When a doctor diagnoses asthma, they will take into account the causes and create an asthma action plan that may involve any of the following:

  • taking medication correctly
  • avoiding triggers
  • measuring levels of asthma control
  • responding to attacks or worsening symptoms
  • getting emergency care if necessary

The doctor will personalize the action plan to the individual’s needs and take them through how they must actively participate.

Learn more about asthma action plans here.

Monitoring asthma

Typically, people should attend regular asthma consultations after first receiving a diagnosis. However, using a peak flow meter at home to monitor their treatment progress can help them manage the disease between doctor’s visits.

A peak flow meter is a simple, handheld tool that can help a person maintain control of their asthma by allowing them to measure the effectiveness of air movement from their lungs.

Peak flow can also warn of an oncoming asthma attack before symptoms are apparent.

Learn how to use a peak flow meter here.

Signs of reasonable asthma control

A person is applying treatment effectively if the following apply:

  • coughing and breathlessness are infrequent
  • the need for quick-relief medication reduces
  • they are maintaining good lung function and activity levels

Reasonable control also means people need to be avoiding asthma triggers and allergens as well.

Asthma medications support long-term disease control, including reduced airway inflammation and prevention of asthma symptoms.

A person with asthma should use these drugs daily to reduce flare-ups and ongoing symptoms.

The most effective drugs for long-term asthma control are known as inhaled corticosteroids. These relieve inflammation and reduce a person’s sensitivity to allergens and triggers.

However, the medicines have side effects, such as thrush that causes a fungal mouth infection. When corticosteroids reach the mouth or throat, the risk of thrush increases.

Doctors may prescribe the following medicines on a long-term basis for people with asthma:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, including Cromolyn, which the person takes using a nebulizer.
  • Immunomodulators, including omalizumab, which a doctor will administer once or twice a month by injection to help reduce reactions to asthma triggers, such as pollen and dust mites.
  • Inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists, which open the airways and may feature alongside corticosteroids in the medication plan of a person with asthma.
  • Leukotriene modifiers for blocking the inflammation reaction in the airways
  • Theophylline, an oral medication that opens the airways.

Complementary treatments

While researchers have explored nonmedical remedies for asthma symptoms, no research is currently available to confirm the effectiveness of anything other than conventional treatment for managing asthma.

Nonmedical treatments, as yet unconfirmed, include acupuncture, breathing exercises, and placebo medications.

People should seek urgent medical attention if their medication does not reduce the effects of an asthma attack or their peak flow measurement is less than half of their personal best.

A hospital will provide direct oxygen to bring the person’s oxygen supply to a safe level and temporarily increase the dosage of medicines.

Emergency staff will likely administer a combination of the following:

  • an injection or inhalation of short-acting beta2-agonists or bronchodilators to re-open the airways
  • oral or intravenous steroids to reduce inflammation
  • anticholinergics, which block the neurotransmitter that restricts breathing
  • inhaled anesthetics to reduce pain and discomfort
  • ketamine, an anesthetic hallucinogen that can relax airways and may be useful in severe cases only
  • intravenous (IV) magnesium sulfate

The doctor may also insert a breathing tube into the throat and provide machine-assisted ventilation if they think a person’s breathing may stop, known as respiratory arrest.

Some people with asthma have specific requirements to reduce their risk of complications and manage underlying conditions.

Older adults

Asthma care for older adults may require adjustments to prevent interactions between asthma medication and any existing drug regimen.

Several medications can prevent the effective function of asthma drugs, including:

Pregnant people

People need to control their asthma symptoms during pregnancy to ensure enough oxygen reaches the developing fetus.

Asthma in pregnant people increases the risk of premature birth, lower birth weight, reduced growth, and mortality for the fetus. The risks of an asthma attack during pregnancy outweigh any risks of taking asthma medication.

Asthma and allergy resources

To discover more evidence-based information and resources for living with asthma and allergies, visit our dedicated hub.

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Asthma treatment centers on long-term control of airway inflammation and relief when someone experiences an asthma attack.

Many people use an inhaler or nebulizer device to disperse asthma medications directly into the lungs as a mist.

Longer-term management uses anti-inflammatory medications, leukotriene modifiers, and immunomodulators, among other drugs, to reduce swelling in the airways and the risk of attacks from immune reactions.