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Asthma Treatments

By Jennifer Larson


Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. 


If you don’t have asthma, you might take that little process for granted. But if you do have asthma, you have to be a little more vigilant about caring for yourself so you can breathe easier. 


While there’s no cure for asthma, you can definitely manage your symptoms and go on living your life. You just have to make it a priority. 


“It's very important to get treatment for asthma, because not only can medicine improve symptoms and make it possible to have a better quality of life, and to keep exercising as much as possible, but untreated asthma can lead to permanent changes of the lung structure that will impair your health as you get older,” says Carol Thelen, a family nurse practitioner with Mercy Personal Physicians at Lutherville in Maryland.


If you or a family member have recently been diagnosed with asthma, you’ll need to learn more about the two main kinds of asthma medications: quick-relief inhalers and long-term medications. You may need both kinds to successfully keep your asthma symptoms under control. 


Quick-relief medication


A quick-relief medication is just what its sounds like: a medication that works fast to stop an asthma flare-up. A rescue inhaler typically contains a medication called a bronchodilator. You use the inhaler to quickly deliver the medication, which works by relaxing the tensed-up muscles around your airways and opening up your airways so air can flow easily through them. Your rescue inhaler could contain a short-acting beta agonist, like albuterol or levalbuterol. Or it might contain another bronchodilator, like ipratropium. 


Ideally, if you’ve got your asthma under control, you would only need to use your rescue inhaler twice a week or less. If you’re reaching for your inhaler every day, it may be time to talk to your doctor about adding a long-term control medication to your management plan—or changing to a different one.  


Long-term control medication


A long-term control medication for asthma is a prescription that you will take on a regular basis to keep your asthma symptoms at bay. Think of them as preventive drugs. They’re available in a number of forms: inhaled versions, pills, injections, and oral solutions. 


Your healthcare provider might prescribe an inhaled medication like corticosteroids, long-acting beta agonists, or a combination version of those two meds. They’re generally considered safe for long-term use. 


Oral asthma medications, which includes medications such as leukotriene modifiers and theophylline, typically work by relaxing muscles and opening up your airways to help you breathe easier. You could also take an oral corticosteroid to reduce swelling and inflammation in your airways. These medications are effective, but there can be some side effects associated with long-term use. 


If you have moderate to severe asthma, you could be a candidate for a biologic medication. These meds work to reduce the inflammation that’s associated with an asthma episode. But taking a biologic could be more logistically challenging, since most people usually have to visit their healthcare provider’s office to receive an infusion or injection. And they tend to be more expensive than other asthma medications on the market. 


Next steps


If you worry that your medication isn’t working well enough—or that your child’s asthma medication doesn’t seem to be effective—that’s not unusual. Asthma symptoms can and often do change, and it’s possible that you need to try something else. 


“If either the parent thinks the child’s asthma control is not working as well as it should, or if, objectively, we can see the child is needing a rescue inhaler more than two days per week, they should go to their healthcare provider for a possible change of treatment plan,” Thelen says.  


If you have concerns, don’t hesitate to speak up. In fact, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about your asthma symptoms.

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