Corticosteroids are medications that doctors commonly prescribe for asthma. Steroid medications can reduce lung and airway inflammation, helping prevent asthma symptoms.
Asthma is a chronic condition involving the airways and lungs. It affects adults and children, causing wheezing and shortness of breath.
Steroids are a type of medication that doctors prescribe to help control asthma symptoms.
This article looks at the types of steroids for asthma, how they can help, and whether they are suitable for everyone with asthma. The article also discusses asthma and COVID-19 and nonsteroidal treatments for asthma.
Doctors use corticosteroids to treat asthma and some allergic conditions, such as skin allergies.
Some people refer to corticosteroids as glucocorticosteroids or simply steroids. Corticosteroids differ from anabolic steroids, which some people use to gain muscle mass.
People commonly use corticosteroid inhalers to help decrease lung and airway inflammation. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective long-term medication for controlling and managing asthma.
Doctors sometimes prescribe corticosteroids in other forms, such as oral pills or injections. They may also prescribe additional medications to help people manage asthma symptoms.
There are several types of delivery systems for administering corticosteroid medications for asthma.
Nebulizers are breathing machines that turn liquid asthma medication into a fine mist. Some people may find them easier to use than inhalers.
Doctors commonly prescribe oral corticosteroids for asthma flare-ups. They can help reduce inflammation and swelling in people who do not respond to other asthma medications. Oral corticosteroids are available in pill or liquid form.
Some people with severe asthma use oral corticosteroids long term, but they may have side effects and risks.
A doctor may administer corticosteroids by IV injection in a hospital setting for severe asthma attacks. This allows the medication to enter the bloodstream, providing quick symptom relief.
A 2018 review of studies suggests that intramuscular injections of corticosteroids are as effective at preventing asthma attacks as corticosteroid tablets.
According to a 2020 overview article, 5-10% of people with asthma respond poorly to corticosteroids. The review explains that some people are steroid-resistant or have glucocorticoid insensitivity. This can happen due to:
- genetic variations
- having nonallergic asthma
- previous bacterial or viral infections
- exposure to fungus
Additionally, in some people, corticosteroids
Researchers analyzed data from a 2020 survey involving 4,500 people with asthma in the United Kingdom. Findings suggest that COVID-19 may cause asthma symptoms to worsen.
Additionally, people who developed long COVID reported a decline in breathing after their initial illness and the need to use their inhalers more frequently.
If a person’s asthma symptoms worsen following COVID-19, they should speak with a healthcare professional.
Learn more about the link between asthma and severe COVID-19.
Depending on a person’s symptoms, asthma treatment may involve quick relief and long-term medications to help control and prevent flare-ups.
Quick relief medications include short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) to relax the muscles in the airways and provide immediate relief from symptoms.
Long-term control medications include:
- corticosteroid inhalers
- long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs), in combination with inhaled corticosteroids
- leukotriene modifiers
- phosphodiesterase (PDE5) inhibitors
The following answers some frequently asked questions.
When will a person require steroids for asthma?
Doctors diagnose asthma based on a person’s health history and breathing tests. They will prescribe corticosteroids if appropriate. A person may also require steroids during an asthma exacerbation.
Do asthma inhalers contain steroids?
Asthma inhalers contain corticosteroids to manage inflammation.
Are steroid inhalers suitable for children?
Research suggests that inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective treatment for children with chronic asthma.
What are the alternatives to steroids?
Several different medications treat and manage asthma. A person should speak to their doctor about the options available.
Asthma and allergy resources
To discover more evidence-based information and resources for living with asthma and allergies, visit our dedicated hub.
Corticosteroid inhalers are a standard asthma treatment.
These medications can help manage symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
Doctors may also prescribe other drugs in combination with or instead of corticosteroids. Some people do not respond to steroids. Others may experience side effects when taking corticosteroids.
If a person has questions or concerns about their current steroid treatment, they should speak with a healthcare professional or pharmacist.