People will respond differently to asthma medications, so individuals should discuss which treatment is best for them with their doctor. Many asthma medications treat asthma in several ways.

Asthma medications are prescription-only medications, and doctors will discuss the most suitable treatment for individuals according to several factors, including age, symptoms, and asthma triggers.

Read on to learn about:

  • the different types of asthma medication available
  • who may benefit from different types of medication
  • the outlook for people with asthma

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There are many different types of asthma medications, including inhalers, tablets, liquids, and injections. The most common medications consist of a spray or powder that a person inhales directly into their lungs.

Inhalers

An inhaler is a handheld medical device that allows the medication to travel directly into a person’s lungs. They require a small amount of training to use, as there is a specific technique people need to follow to ensure they take the medication effectively.

An individual can use an inhaler with an optional piece of equipment called a spacer, a plastic tube that makes the inhaler more efficient. People may find spacers helpful, as they:

  • help waste less medication, as it goes straight to a person’s lungs
  • reduce side effects from the medication being in their mouth
  • make taking inhalers easier due to not having to breathe at the right time and speed

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have a video detailing exactly how a person should use an inhaler.

Additionally, inhalers are portable and easy for people to keep with them at all times. However, due to their small size, they are easy to misplace.

It is also important that individuals with asthma make sure that they have their inhalers with them at all times in case of an asthma attack. It could be useful to have a backup inhaler in case one goes missing.

Additionally, inhalers may provide quick-relief “rescue” medicines for relieving symptoms when they occur. People can also use them to deliver long-term “controller” medicines to prevent symptoms from developing.

Nebulizers

Nebulizers are electrical devices that can convert liquids into an easily inhalable mist. They require a person to wear a mouthpiece or mask and breathe normally.

Nebulizers may be more suited for children with asthma than inhalers, as they do not require them to press a button and breathe at the right time.

However, one disadvantage of these devices is that they require a power source and can be quite bulky.

Medications

Inhalers or nebulizers may contain a variety of medications, such as the below.

  • Bronchodilators: These relax the muscles in and around the airways to relieve symptoms quickly. They can either provide short-term or long-term relief.
  • Anti-inflammatories: These work by reducing the swelling and mucus production inside the airways. People also refer to them as inhaled corticosteroids, and they are usually for short-term relief.
  • Combined medicines: These combine bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications.
  • Anticholinergics: These are add-on treatments that people often use in conjunction with anti-inflammatories. They prevent the muscles from tightening around the airways.

Sometimes, inhalers can cause a person to develop oral thrush, so individuals should always rinse their mouth with water after using them to minimize their risk of developing the condition.

The main two categories of asthma medication are short-term relief medications and long-term control medications.

Short-term relief medications

People sometimes call these rescue medications, which help treat symptoms as they occur. They work by relaxing airway muscles to provide quick symptom relief.

For some individuals, such as those with mild asthma or asthma with symptoms that occur only after physical activity, these may be the only medication they require.

However, if a person finds themselves using their short-term medication more frequently than twice a week — except during or after exercise-induced asthma — they may also need to consider long-term control medications.

Examples of short term relief medications include:

  • Inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists: These include albuterol and levalbuterol. Side effects may include shakiness, thrush, increased heart rate, and headache.
  • Oral and IV corticosteroids: A person can take these if they experience an asthma attack to relieve the inflammation. Side effects may include headaches, weight gain, and trouble sleeping.
  • Short-acting anticholinergics: Side effects may include nosebleed, dry mouth, and nasal irritation.

Long-term asthma control medications

People may also call these types of medications controller, maintenance, or anti-inflammatory medicines. They include leukotriene receptor antagonists, such as montelukast, and long-acting bronchodilator inhalers.

Side effects of long-term asthma control medications can include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • sleeping difficulties
  • increased heart rate
  • skin rash
  • seizures

A person should take these medications as their doctor directs, even if they feel well. This is because if they stop taking their preventative medicine, their airways may become inflamed again, leading to an increased risk of an asthma attack.

To prevent asthma attacks, people should ensure they take their medication exactly as a doctor recommends.

This means a person should ensure that they take their asthma medication:

  • at the right time
  • as frequently as healthcare providers recommend
  • using the correct technique

Although no medication can cure asthma, appropriate medications can help improve symptoms or reduce their occurrence.

According to the United Kingdom’s Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation Partnership, the main aims for asthma medications are for the person to experience:

  • no symptoms of asthma, either during the day or at night
  • no asthma attacks
  • good lung function
  • no interference with their daily life due to asthma symptoms

As long as people take their asthma medication as directed and do not stop taking it unless a doctor recommends doing so, they could have a full life without asthma affecting their day-to-day activities.

There are many different types of asthma medication, and healthcare providers can work with people to find the best treatment for each individual.

Some people may require a treatment plan involving rescue medications as well as prevention medications. In contrast, others, such as those with mild asthma, may only require medicine when they experience an asthma attack.