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5 Things You Didn’t Know About Asthma Medications (But Should)

July 19, 2019

Asthma is a chronic condition that can result in swelling of the airways that lead to the lungs. It can't be cured, but it can be controlled with ongoing treatment using medication. The types and doses of medication your doctor might prescribe depend on several factors, including your age, symptoms, the severity of your asthma and each medicine’s side effects.

Inhaler Basics

Asthma is usually treated with two types of inhalers:

  • Long term, used daily, to help prevent asthma attacks from occurring.
  • Quick relief (or "rescue"), used when an attack occurs, to provide rapid relief. These inhalers also are used before exercise or when you know you might be exposed to an asthma trigger.

Other medications and treatments also can be used to treat asthma. Here are 5 things you might not have known about asthma medications — but should.

1. Inhaler Alternative

Not everyone with asthma has the air supply to use an inhaler properly. Nebulizers are an option in these cases. These machines, which include tubing and a mask, turn asthma medicine into a mist that patients breathe in over a period of 10 minutes or so.

2. Severe Asthma Option

For severe asthma cases, when other medications haven't worked, your doctor might prescribe a "biologic." Biologics are shots or infusions given every few weeks. These are expensive treatments that target specific cells or proteins to prevent airway inflammation.

3. Long-Term Relief

Bronchial Thermoplasty is a newer treatment for severe asthma. This medical procedure (not a medicine) uses gentle heat to shrink the smooth muscle tissue in your airway walls that constricts during an asthma attack. It's performed at a hospital and involves three treatments over three visits 2–3 weeks apart.

4. Inhaler Side Effect

Thrush — a yeast infection of the mouth, tongue and throat — is a possible side effect of using long-term, corticosteroid-based inhalers. Corticosteroids help prevent asthma attacks by suppressing the immune system in the lungs. But they have the same effect in the surfaces of the mouth, tongue and throat, which can allow thrush to take hold. Rinsing any leftover medicine out your mouth and gargling with water after using your inhaler can help prevent thrush. Using a spacer with your inhaler can help ensure more medication ends up in your lungs and less in your mouth and throat.

5. Measure of Success

Changes with asthma can happen slowly, so it can be difficult to know how well your medicine and other treatment is working. A peak flow meter can help you and your doctor track your treatment's progress. The device measures your lung function when you breathe into it with one strong breath. Your doctor might want you to use the meter daily and write down the results in a diary.