Managing Your Asthma Medicines

Medicines play a key role in controlling asthma. Some help to prevent symptoms. Others are used to treat symptoms.  It is important to use your medicines the right way. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to review how to correctly use them. Your healthcare provider will write down directions you should follow. This is your Asthma Action Plan.

If you don't have an Asthma Action Plan, contact your healthcare provider right away. Your Asthma Action Plan should be updated every year and when your treatment changes.

Long-term control medicines

These are also called maintenance or controller medicines. There are several different long-term control medicines. These medicines help reduce swelling of the airways. Or they may keep the airways open over the course of the day. And they help prevent asthma flare-ups.

Long-term medicines:

  • Are taken on a schedule. For most people, this means every day even when you feel fine.

  • Help keep asthma under control, so you are less likely to have symptoms

  • Will not stop a flare-up once it has begun

Using inhaled corticosteroids

Your healthcare provider may prescribe inhaled corticosteroids for the long-term control of asthma. Inhaled corticosteroids are safe for long-term use. They are not the steroids that you hear about athletes abusing. The usual prescribed doses of corticosteroids often don't cause side effects. That’s because they are inhaled directly into the lungs, where they are needed. So they have little effect on the rest of the body.

You can also lower your chance of side effects even more when you:

  • Ask your healthcare provider about using a spacer or holding chamber with your inhaler. These devices help the medicine get to your lungs more easily.

  • Gargle and rinse out your mouth with water each time after using a steroid inhaler. Spit the water out. This simple step will help prevent some side effects of the medicine, such as oral thrush.

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

  • Always use the correct method when using an inhaler. It will help the medicine in the canister get into your lungs correctly.

Quick-relief medicines

Quick-relief medicines are also called rescue medicines. They work by relaxing the muscles that tighten 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—even if you feel OK.

Quick-relief medicines:

  • Are inhaled when needed

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

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

  • Can help prevent flare-ups triggered by exercise

  • Are kept with you at all times

Tips for taking asthma medicines

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

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

  • Set an alarm on your smart phone, watch, or computer to help you remember to take your medicines.

  • Refill your prescriptions on time so you don’t run out.

  • Carry your quick-relief medicine with you. If you can, keep a spare quick-relief inhaler at work or at school. Or any place you spend a lot of time.

  • When you travel, make sure you have enough medicine for your entire trip. Bring extra medicine for a few days in case there is an emergency delay in your travel plans. If you are flying, keep your medicines with you. Don't pack them in your checked luggage.

  • Make sure you know how to use your inhaler. This includes how to tell if it is empty. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to show you if you are not sure.

Working with your healthcare provider

It's important to work with your healthcare provider. Keep all of your appointments. This ongoing management by you and your provider will help you get the most benefit from your medicines and have fewer side effects. Don’t stop taking your asthma medicine if you feel better.

You and your healthcare provider can work together to:

  • Find the right dose.  Over time, your healthcare provider may change your medicines. Your provider may raise or lower the dose of your controller medicine. Or they may change the medicine to a different one. For example, you may need different long-term medicine if you are using your quick-relief medicine more than 2 times a week. The goal is to find the dose that will control your symptoms without taking more medicine than is needed.

  • Find the right medicines for you.  Each person is different. It may take a while to find the right medicine or combination of medicines for you. If a medicine doesn’t work well for you, another may work better.

  • Lessen any side effects.  If you have side effects, let your healthcare provider know. Keep a list of the symptoms, the time of day they occurred, and what you were doing when they occurred. Your provider may need to change the dose. Or you may need to switch to a different medicine.

  • Keep up with your Asthma Action Plan.  This is a written worksheet created just for you. It is put together by you and your healthcare provider. It gives the exact steps needed to treat your asthma symptoms early. These steps will help keep your asthma from getting worse. The worksheet also suggests when to call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room. Explain the worksheet to your close family members. Keep a copy with you. Make notes about any new symptoms or symptoms changes. Take the information to your healthcare appointments so your Asthma Action Plan can be updated.  

Online Medical Reviewer: Dan Brennan MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Deborah Pedersen MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 5/1/2023
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