What's the difference between the different kinds of asthma medications?
There are eight general types of medications used to treat asthma. Some are considered long-term control medications; they are used daily to prevent asthma symptoms and attacks. Others are quick-relief medications, used in the event of an asthma attack.
Long-term control medication controls inflammation and swelling in the lungs' airways. Patients are directed to take this type of medication every day-even if they are feeling fine. There are six types of these drugs:
- Inhaled corticosteroids are considered the most powerful long-term control therapy. Examples are QVAR® (beclomethasone), and Flovent® (fluticasone) inhalers.
- Oral corticosteroids are usually prescribed for patients with severe persistent asthma or who experience acute asthma attacks. Examples include prednisone and methylprednisone tablets.
- Mast cell stabilizers are used to prevent exercise-induced asthma. An example is Intal® (cromolyn).
- Long-acting beta 2 agonists relax and open bronchial tubes. An example is Foradil® (formoteral). A combination drug that both relaxes and opens airways, and reduces inflammation is Advair® (salmeterol and fluticasone).
- Theophylline relaxes airways and may prevent inflammation.
- Anti-leukotriene agents are a relatively new class of long-term control drugs. These include Accolate® (zafirlukast) and Singulair® (montelukast).
Quick-relief medications are for use during an asthma attack. Unlike long-term control medications, they do not reduce inflammation. Instead, they relax and open airways to increase airflow.
- Short-acting beta agonists include inhaled drugs such as Proventil® (albuterol).
- Atrovent® (ipratropium) often is prescribed for patients who cannot tolerate beta-agonist side effects.
If you are being treated for asthma, be sure you understand when to use your medications. If your current asthma treatment does not include a long-acting medication, discuss with your physician if one is right for you.
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