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Treatments for Asthma

If you or a loved one has asthma, you should know about the most effective treatments for short-term relief and long-term control. Understanding different treatments will enable you to confidently manage your asthma daily.
Asthma medications can save your life and let you live an active life in spite of your asthma.

There are two basic types of drugs used in asthma treatment:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs, particularly inhaled steroids, are the most important treatment for most people with asthma. These lifesaving medications prevent asthma attacks and work by reducing swelling and mucus production in the airways. As a result, the airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to asthma triggers and cause asthma symptoms.
  • Bronchodilators relieve the symptoms of asthma by relaxing the muscles that can tighten around the airways. This helps to open up the airways.

Short-acting bronchodilator inhalers are often referred to as rescue inhalers and are used to quickly relieve the cough, wheeze, chest tightness, and shortness of breath caused by asthma. They may also be used prior to exercise for people with exercise-induced asthma. These should not be used daily in the routine treatment of asthma. If you need to use a short-acting bronchodilator as a rescue inhaler more than twice a week, then your asthma is not optimally controlled.

Long-acting bronchodilators are used in combination with inhaled steroids for control of asthma symptoms or when someone has ongoing asthma symptoms despite treatment with a daily inhaled steroid. Long-acting bronchodilators are never used alone as long-term therapy for asthma.

Asthma inhalers are the most common and effective way to deliver asthma drugs to the lungs. They are available in different types that require different techniques for use. Some inhalers deliver one medication and others contain two different medications.

Different kinds of inhalers:

Metered dose inhalers deliver asthma medication through a small, hand held aerosol canister. The metered dose inhaler has a chemical propellant that pushes the medicine into your mouth when you press down on the inhaler, and you breathe the medicine in. If required you can use spacer to help you use an MDI more easily.

Dry powder asthma inhalers require you to breathe in quickly and deeply to use properly. These asthma inhalers may be difficult to use during an asthma attack when you cannot fully catch a deep breath. Read the instructions carefully for each dry powder inhaler because they vary considerably. The technique you learned for one type of inhaler often does not apply to others.

Nebulizers are devices that deliver medication through a mouthpiece or mask. They are easier to use because you can breathe normally, and are more often used for young children or people with severe asthma attacks who may not be able to use an MDI or DPI properly.

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