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Medications for asthma are prescribed for two different purposes: to stop an immediate flare-up, and to control inflammation and reduce lung damage over the long-term. Quick relief medications are called bronchodilators and help open the airways when you have an asthma episode. While long-term control medications are usually taken daily to maintain inflammation and prevent flare-ups.
Asthma medicines can be taken in different forms, but most are taken using a device called an inhaler. An inhaler is a hand-held portable device that delivers medication to your lungs. Make sure you are using yours right, so that you get the medicine you need. The best way to use it is with a spacer, a tube that goes between your inhaler and your mouth. It serves as a holding chamber for the medication that is sprayed by the inhaler. The spacer makes it easier and more efficient for the medication to reach the lungs. Watch “Know How to Use Your Asthma Inhaler” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as ask your doctor to show you the right way to use your inhaler.
Asthma Medications and Devices
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Long-Term Control Medications
Long-term control medications (also called controllers) help prevent asthma attacks by controlling inflammation in the airways. These medications should be taken every day by people who have signs or symptoms of asthma more than twice a week. Medications include:
- Inhaled steroids: These medicines keep inflammation (swelling) of the airway lining from starting and reduce the inflammation that already exists.
- Cromolyn and nedocromil: These medicines block the asthma reaction before it starts.
- Long acting beta2-agonist medicines (LABA): These medicines help keep the airways open. They should be taken in addition to an inhaled steroid. Because they are long acting, they help prevent symptoms at night.
- Theophylline: This medicine helps keep the airways open. It is long acting and can help prevent symptoms at night.
- Leukotriene modifiers: These long acting medicines block part of the asthma reaction and help reduce symptoms.
Quick-relief medications provide immediate relief of asthma symptoms and can be used to prevent symptoms if used before exposure to an asthma trigger, such as exercise. Quick-relief medications are also called bronchodilators. Medications include:
- Beta2-agonist medicines: These medicines quickly relax the muscles that have tightened around the airways.
- Anticholinergics: These medicines, including Ipratropium, relaxes the muscles that have tightened around the airways, but not as quickly as beta2-agonist medicines do.
- Systemic corticosteroids: These medicines can speed resolution of airflow obstruction and reduce the rate of relapse.
If quick-relief medications are used more than two or three times a week, daily long-term control medications should be added to the treatment plan.
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