Overview on asthma medications

Asthma is managed by taking into consideration the symptoms and specific triggers. Remember that avoidance only goes so far, thus there is a need to use medications to effectively control the symptoms.

The appropriate medication depends on various factors including the symptoms, age, triggers and response to the drugs. The effective asthma medications are not available over-the-counter. Generally, the over-the-counter variants are discouraged. The doctor will prescribe the right medication for you.

Commonly used asthma medications

Inhalers and nebulizers

Asthma medications can be administered via an inhaler or nebulizer that can both deliver rapid-acting or long-term medications. Remember that the device being used will not change the effectiveness of the drug. It is simply a personal choice and there are pros and cons to every method.



Asthma medications can be administered via an inhaler or nebulizer that can both deliver rapid-acting or long-term medications.

These are handheld devices that are utilized to pump medicine into the lungs. The device should be pressed so that the medication is inhaled. As small, light and portable devices, they are easy to lose. In case an adult or child uses one, make sure that a backup is available.

There are 2 types of inhalers:

  • Metered dose inhaler – this delivers a measured spritz of medication when the inhaler is pressed.
  • Dry powder inhaler – releases medication in powder form in which the individual inhales the powder forcibly out of the inhaler.


These are plug-in or battery-powered devices that turn liquid medications into a mist for easy inhalation. A mouthpiece or facemask of the nebulizer is worn and the mist is slowly inhaled. It takes 5-10 minutes to inhale the medication from the nebulizer.

Bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory medications

The asthma medications are divided into 2 groups – bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs. These work by focusing on the 2 main symptoms of asthma.

  • The bronchodilators target the tight lung muscles that restricts the airways. These medications allow the lung muscles to relax and widens the airways for easier breathing. These are usually used for rapid relief of the symptoms.
  • The anti-inflammatory drugs deal with the inflammation in the lungs. They work by reducing the swelling and irritation to improve breathing. These are used for daily maintenance to prevent the symptoms.

Quick-relief medications

The quick-relief medications or rescue therapy are bronchodilators that provide rapid relief from the flare-ups or more serious attacks.

  • Short-acting beta agonists – these are inhaled medications that provide immediate relief during an asthma attack that can last for several hours. These are ideally used for exercise-induced attacks.
  • Anticholinergics – these are inhaled bronchodilators that provide rapid relief from an asthma attack

Long-term medications

These asthma medications are taken daily and used to prevent the symptoms. For long-term treatment, the doctor might prescribe an anti-inflammatory, bronchodilator or a combination of both.

  • Inhaled corticosteroids – these are the strongest and widely used
  • Oral corticosteroids – these are systemic drugs used for severe symptoms
  • Long-acting beta antagonists – these are used to prevent attacks and used 2 times in a day via an inhaler and always used with an inhaled corticosteroid
  • Combination inhalers – these include a combination of a corticosteroid and a long-acting beta antagonist
  • Leukotriene modifiers – these are anti-inflammatory drugs in oral form and work by blocking the action of leukotrienes
  • Methylxanthines – these are bronchodilators that possess some anti-inflammatory effects
  • Immunodulators or biologics – work by blocking the substances that trigger the asthma attacks


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