Injectable medications for asthma may help to alleviate a person’s symptoms, but they can also cause side effects in some people, such as soreness or irritation at the injection site.
Doctors may recommend several injectable medications to treat people who have allergic asthma or severe asthma that requires hospital care.
This article reviews different types of injectable medicines for asthma, their potential side effects and complications, and other medications that may be helpful for people with asthma.
It also discusses when someone should speak with a doctor.
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People with asthma may use several different injectable medications for preventive care or to treat acute asthma flares. Healthcare professionals such as allergists can help determine which injectable medications may work best for a person.
Biologics are a newer therapy available for people whose asthma results from allergic reactions. They provide targeted therapy for asthma. In other words, they can target specific cells or antibodies to stop inflammation in the airways.
Manufacturers make biologics from the cells of living organisms such as bacteria. Several different types are available for treating asthma, such as:
- reslizumab (Cinqair)
- mepolizumab (Nucala)
- omalizumab (Xolair)
- benralizumab (Fasenra)
- dupilumab (Dupixent)
- tezepelumab-ekko (Tezspire)
Currently, doctors administer most biologics as an injection or intravenous infusion, but they may prescribe dupilumab to administer at home.
Healthcare professionals may require a person to stay in their office for 30 minutes or more for observation following administration of the biologic medication. Depending on the type of biologic medication a doctor administers, a person may require treatment every 2–8 weeks.
Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
Allergy shots are a type of immunotherapy. This type of therapy helps to make the body less sensitive to substances that trigger allergic reactions.
A doctor may recommend this type of injection for people:
- who cannot avoid allergens that trigger their asthma throughout their day
- have attacks 3 or more days per week and 2 or more nights per month
- who cannot easily control their asthma symptoms with other medications
For people with allergy-induced asthma, allergy shots
Healthcare professionals may provide steroid injections in a hospital setting when a person experiences a severe asthma attack. Steroid injections may help to reduce the amount of swelling in the airways to help a person return to regular breathing.
A 2018 review of studies found that steroid injections in the emergency room setting were as effective as oral steroids in preventing relapse of symptoms. However, given the low to moderate quality of evidence, the authors of the review only expressed moderate confidence about the results.
Healthcare professionals do not generally recommend epinephrine injections to treat acute asthma unless it relates to anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction that can cut off airways) or angioedema (extreme swelling in deep layers of skin that can cause breathing problems).
Some evidence suggests that epinephrine, an alpha and beta agonist, may be as effective as nebulized selective beta-2 agonists in treating acute asthma, but additional high-quality studies are necessary to prove this. Nebulized selective beta-2 agonists, such as albuterol, are medications that people typically inhale to treat asthma.
Side effects of injectable medications for asthma can range from mild to potentially severe. They can also vary according to the type of medication a person has used.
Biologic side effects
Biologics may cause mild side effects such as:
In rare cases, they can cause anaphylaxis.
Immunotherapy side effects
Allergy shots may cause skin redness or irritation at the injection site immediately or within hours of the injection. Some people may experience an increase in allergic symptoms, such as sneezing, hives, or nasal congestion.
In rare cases, they may also cause anaphylaxis, which typically occurs within 30 minutes of a healthcare professional administering the injections.
Steroid injection side effects
Like other medications, steroid injections may cause side effects in some people. Some possible side effects include:
- pain or discomfort at the injection site
- thinning of skin at the injection site
- temporary bruising at the injection site
- vision changes
- flushing of the face
- pale skin at injection site
Side effects of steroid injections may be worse or more likely with higher doses or long-term use. People with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, may also experience additional side effects.
Epinephrine side effects
Common side effects of epinephrine
- high blood pressure
- heart palpitations
Epinephrine may also cause other adverse effects and interact with other medications.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, doctors often prescribe different forms of medication to help manage asthma. These include:
- inhalers, which people may also call puffers
- nebulizers, which are machines that turn liquid asthma medication into a mist for a person to breathe in through a mask or mouthpiece
- pills, which people take orally
A person should speak with a healthcare professional as soon as possible if they suspect they may have undiagnosed asthma or if current treatments for their asthma are not helping with symptoms. They may need to adjust or change medications to help better manage the condition.
People experiencing severe asthma attacks should call 911 immediately.
Injectable medications for asthma may help with preventing and controlling asthma attacks. Healthcare professionals can administer them to people with severe asthma or those who have trouble managing their symptoms with other treatments.
Examples include biologics, steroid injections, allergy shots, and epinephrine injections.
Injectable medications for asthma may cause side effects and complications for some people. A person should consider discussing potential side effects with a doctor. If they occur, a doctor may be able to recommend different medications to reduce side effects.