Primatene MistUnderstanding the Different Types of Asthma Medications

Understanding the Different Types of Asthma Medications


Understanding the Different Types of Asthma Medications

Asthma is a chronic (long-term) condition that affects airways in the lungs. The airways are tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs, and if you have asthma, they are constantly inflamed. For some people, this inflammation can lead to asthma symptoms like chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing. In severe cases, it can lead to an asthma attack, which can be life-threatening. While there is no cure for asthma, there are different types of medications available that control its symptoms and prevent severe episodes.


Inhalers are the most common type of asthma medication. They deliver medication directly to the airways, reducing side effects compared to medications that affect the whole body. There are two major types of inhalers: metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs).

MDIs contain a pressurized canister of medication. When the inhaler is activated, it releases a measured dose of medication, which the patient inhales. DPIs contain medication in a dry powder form. The action of inhaling triggers the release of medication, which is then inhaled.

Long-term Control Medications

Long-term control medications, or maintenance medications, are used daily to control persistent asthma. They reduce inflammation in the airways to prevent asthma symptoms. Some examples include: Inhaled corticosteroids, Long-acting beta agonists, Leukotriene modifiers, Theophylline, Combination inhalers.

Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective long-term control medication for asthma. They control and reduce inflammation in the airways, minimizing the likelihood of an asthma attack. Some common names include fluticasone, budesonide, and beclomethasone.

Long-acting Beta Agonists (LABAs)

LABAs are another type of long-term control medication. They relax the muscles around the airways to prevent and reduce asthma symptoms. LABAs should be used in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid.

Leukotriene Modifiers

Leukotriene modifiers block the action of leukotrienes, chemicals in the body that cause inflammation in the airways. They can be used alone or in combination with other asthma medications. Examples include montelukast and zafirlukast.


Theophylline relaxes the muscles around the airways, opening them up and making breathing easier. It’s available as a pill or liquid and used for daily management of asthma symptoms.

Combination Inhalers

Combination inhalers contain two different types of medication: an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta agonist. They provide the benefits of these two medications in one inhaler.

Quick-relief Medications

Quick-relief medications, also known as rescue medications, are used to treat symptoms of an asthma attack. These include short-acting beta agonists, ipratropium, and oral corticosteroids.

Short-acting Beta Agonists (SABAs)

SABAs are the most commonly used medication for quick relief of acute asthma symptoms. They relax the muscles around the airways, opening them up and providing immediate relief. SABAs include albuterol, levalbuterol, and pirbuterol.


Ipratropium, also known as Atrovent, is used for sudden asthma attacks. It works similarly to SABAs by relaxing the muscles around the airways, but it is not as strong.

Oral Corticosteroids

Oral corticosteroids are used for severe asthma attacks. They reduce inflammation in the airways but can cause serious side effects if used long-term.

Biologic Therapy

Biologic therapies are injections or infusions that target specific cells or proteins in the body to prevent inflammation in the airways. They are used for severe asthma that is not controlled by other medications.


Asthma requires long-term management, but with the right treatment plan, including the appropriate medication, individuals can lead healthy, active lives. It’s important to work closely with healthcare providers to find the right medications for your specific type of asthma. Remember, the goal of treatment is not just to relieve symptoms, but also to prevent future asthma attacks. With the correct medication, it is entirely possible to control asthma and decrease disruptions to one’s life.


1. Can asthma be cured?

Asthma is a chronic condition, and while there’s no known cure, it can be well-managed with the right treatment plan and medications.

2. Can asthma medications cause side effects?

Yes, like any other medication, asthma medications can cause side effects. These can range from mild to severe and can include skin rash, nausea, and headaches. Always discuss side effects with your healthcare provider.

3. How quickly do asthma medications work?

Quick-relief medications should start working within minutes to alleviate acute symptoms. Long-term control medications need to be taken regularly and may take days or even weeks to reach their full effect.

4. Can I use my quick-relief inhaler every day?

Quick-relief inhalers are intended for use only during an asthma attack or before exercise to prevent asthma symptoms. If you find yourself needing your quick-relief inhaler daily, you should contact your healthcare provider as this may be a sign your asthma is not well controlled.

5. How often should I use my long-term control medication?

Long-term control medications should be taken every day, even when you do not have symptoms. This helps to keep the inflammation in your airways under control and prevent asthma attacks.


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