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Asthma Medication

Medications play a key role in controlling asthma. Some help control asthma symptoms and prevent flare-ups. Others are used to treat symptoms when they occur. Always take your medication as prescribed. Know the names of your medication and how and when to use them. if you have any questions about your medications, talk with your health care provider or pharmacist.

Woman at bathroom sink using metered-dose inhaler with spacer.
Get used to using your inhaled corticosteroid medication before you brush your teeth. that way you will always rinse your mouth afterward.

Quick-Relief Medication

Quick-relief (also called “rescue”) medications work by relaxing the muscles around the airways. This helps ease symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Keep your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times. Quick-relief medications:

  • Are inhaled when needed. Use your quick-relief medication when you first notice your asthma is getting worse.

  • Start to open the airways within a few minutes after you use them.

  • Can help stop a flare-up once it has begun.

  • May be used before exercise.

Long-Term Control Medication

Long-term control (also called “maintenance” or controller) medications help reduce swelling and inflammation of the airways. This makes the airways less sensitive to triggers and less likely to flare up. Long-term control medications:

  • Are taken on a schedule—for most people, every day. They are taken even when you feel fine.

  • Help keep asthma under control so you’re less likely to have symptoms.

  • Will NOT stop a flare-up once it has begun.

Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids are safe for long-term use. They are not the “steroids” that you hear about athletes abusing. They usually do not cause serious side effects. That’s because they’re inhaled directly into the lungs. The chance of minor side effects can be lowered even more if you:

  • Use a spacer with your inhaler. Ask your health care provider or pharmacist about using a spacer if you don't currently use one.

  • Rinse your mouth, gargle, and spit out the water after using your inhaled corticosteroid medication.

  • Follow all instructions for cleaning inhalers and spacers.

  • Work with your health care provider to find the lowest dose that controls your asthma.

Tips for Taking Medication

Remembering to take medication each day can be hard for anyone. It can be even harder to remember when you don’t have symptoms. Try these tips:

  • Develop a routine. For example, take long-term controllers as part of getting ready for bed.

  • Make sure you understand what long-term controllers do and don’t do.

  • Refill your prescriptions on time, or even ahead of time, so you don’t run out.

  • Carry your quick-relief medication with you. If you can, keep a spare quick-relief inhaler at work, at school, or in your gym bag.

  • When you travel, make sure you have enough medication to last for your entire trip.

  • When traveling by air, keep your medications with you, not packed in your luggage.

  • Make sure you know how to tell if your inhaler is empty. Ask your provider or pharmacist, or check the instructions that come with your inhaler.

Working with Your Health Care Provider

By working with your health care provider, you can get the most benefit from your medication. Talk with your health care provider about:

  • Getting the right dose. Over time, your health care provider may raise or lower the dose of your controller medication. The goal is to find the amount of medication to keep asthma in control, without taking more than is needed.

  • Finding the right medications for you. Each person is unique. It may take a few tries to find the right medication or combination of medications for you. If one medication doesn’t work well for you, another may work better.

  • Minimizing side effects. If you have side effects, don’t just stop taking your medication. Instead, call your health care provider. A new medication or change in the amount of medication may solve the problem.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 6/23/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.