Medicines Used to Treat Asthma

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Medicines Used to Treat Asthma
During an asthma episode (“attack”)
For Longer Relief of Tightness
• The lining of the airways becomes swollen

§ Salmeterol (Serevent) is a long-acting beta2
• The airways produce a thick mucus.
agonist. It is NOT intended as a quick relief

agent. Serevent is useful in the management

The muscles around the airways tighten
of nighttime symptoms and exercised-induced
and make the airways narrower.
asthma. The drug may be given in an inhaler: 2
These changes in the airways block the flow of air,
puffs with a spacer every 12 hours. The
making it hard to breathe and causing coughing.
inhaled powder form (Serevent Discus) is given
It often takes more than one medicine to treat the
1 puff every 12 hours. It is also useful in
disease: some medicines relax the airways
combination with an inhaled corticosteroid
(bronchodilators) and others reduce (and even
(Advair Discus) or with another anti-
prevent) the swelling and excess mucus production
inflammatory agent.

§ A group of drugs known as the
There are three main categories of medications:
methylxanthines, which includes theophylline

(Slo-Bid, Theo-Dur), once the mainstream of
For Quick Relief of Tightness
asthma treatment, is now considered second or
third choice. These may have adverse side

effects and interact with many drugs.
When small muscles tighten around the small
airways in your lungs it is called bronchospasm.

Quick acting beta²-agonists, also called
For Long-term Control of
bronchodilators, are used for relieving this
bronchospasm (or preventing it before exercise).

Usually given as inhalers, they include albuterol
For all categories of asthma beyond mild
(Proventyl, Ventolin), Tornate, Alupent, Maxair,
intermittent, medications which reduce and
and Brethaire. They work fast (in less than five
prevent inflammation of the airways are needed.
minutes), with a peak effect within 30-60 minutes,
These are the anti-inflammatory agents:
and they last 4-6 hours. Usual dose is 1 or 2 puffs
corticosteroids, mast cell stabilizers, and
every 4-6 hours as needed for wheezing, cough,
leukotriene modifiers. These medications are taken
tightness. Wait 5 minutes before the second puff,
regularly and should NOT be used to treat sudden
to give the first puff a chance to work.
symptoms. You need to take this medicine EVERY
Exceeding 8 puffs per 24 hours may be dangerous to

your heart. The frequent use of quick-relief
§ Corticosteroids are potent medicines that
medication (i.e. more than 8 puffs per 24 hours or
reduce or reverse the swelling in the airways
more than one canister per month) indicates poor
that cause asthma symptoms. Inhaled steroids
asthma control and the need for reevaluation by
are effective for long-term use and have fewer
your health care provider. You may need to start
side effects than oral (tablet) steroids. Inhaled
or increase your dosage of long-term control
corticosteroids should be used with a spacer
and are usually dosed twice a day. To prevent

oral candidiasis (yeast), patients are instructed
to rinse their mouth out after each use.
Steroid tablets are usually reserved for severe,
persistent asthma. If you have asthma
symptoms more than once or twice a week, you
need an anti-inflammatory medicine and you
need to take it EVERY DAY!

This document was prepared by the staff of the UWSP University Health Service.
This information should not be used in lieu of medical care.
Last updated: January 2002
Asthma Meds.doc

§ Mast cell stabilizers are good choices for
You won’t have to take as much medicine that way
preventing mild to moderate asthma. These
drugs, cromolyn sodium (Intal), nedocromil
(Tilade), are very safe and also help with
REMEMBER: Bronchodilators relieve symptoms,
allerg y- and exercise-induced asthma. They
but they cannot reduce or prevent the swelling
can be started as a preventative measure prior
that causes the symptoms. When you have to use
to your allergy season or used before you are in
a bronchodilator a lot, it may be a sign that the
contact with a known trigger (i.e. prior to
swelling in your airways is getting worse. If you use
visiting a friend or relative who has a dog).
a Beta2-agonist to relieve symptoms every day or if
Both agents can be taken 15 – 30 minutes
you use it more than three or four times in a single
before exercise to prevent exercise-induced
day, your asthma may be getting much worse. You
bronchospasm for 1 – 2 hours. They are not
probably need another kind of medicine. Discuss
intended and are not useful for an acute
this with your health care provider right away.

Take your anti-inflammatory medicines exactly the
way your health care provider recommends, even if
you are not feeling symptoms. This will reduce
airway swelling and will keep asthma episodes from
starting. This medicine must be taken regularly for
it to work well.

§ Leukotriene modifiers. Leukotrienes are potent
pro-inflammatory mediators in an asthmatic
person’s lungs which contribute to increased
mucous production, bronchospasm and allergy
response. A class of drugs known as
leukotriene inhibitors (Accolate, Singulair, and
Zyflo) block that leukotriene action, improving
asthma symptoms by decreasing mucous
production and bronchospasm.

Are Asthma Medicines Safe?
Safety Reminder:

Asthma medicines are safe, if taken as directed.
REMEMBER: Your asthma medicine plan is not
Some people are afraid that they will become
working if you still have symptoms with exercise,
addicted to their medicines. This is not true.
at rest, at night, or early in the morning. You
Others are concerned that if medicine is taken all
need to talk with your health care provider about
the time, it will no longer work. This problem
your medicine plan. Your health care provider
occurs rarely and can be managed. Talk to your
may need to change the dose or the type of your
health care provider if this happens.
medicine. If you have any side effects contact your

health care provider immediately and do not stop
taking your medicine completely until you talk with
Tips For Correct Use of

If you have any questions you can reach the UWSP
Take your bronchodilator medicine at the earliest
staff at 715-346-4646. After hours or in an
sign that your asthma is getting worse. Watch out
emergency call your local emergency department
for early signs (a drop in your peak flow number or
or dial 9-1-1.
feeling symptoms such as cough, chest tightness,

wheezing, or being short of breath) so that asthma

medicine can be started right away to relieve
symptoms. An asthma episode is easier to stop if
you take your medicine as soon as symptoms start.