Treatment for asthma focuses on providing quick relief from breathing difficulties, reducing inflammation of the airways and preventing further asthma flare-ups. Anti-inflammatory medications such as corticosteroids are commonly recommended for providing long-term relief from the symptoms of asthma. Bronchodilators are prescribed for easing breathing by opening the airways.
Medications for Treating Asthma
Inhaled corticosteroid drugs are usually the first line treatment for asthma. Long-term use of these anti-inflammatory drugs offers better asthma control, lowering the risk of hospitalization. Inhaled corticosteroids are available in the form of metered dose inhaler, nebulizer solutions and dry powder inhaler.
Corticosteroids commonly used for treating asthma include fluticasone, beclomethasone, budesonide, ciclesonide and mometasone. Inhaled corticosteroids are considered safe for long-term use. However, in children, they might delay growth. Prolonged use of these asthma medications might increase the risk of yeast infections in the throat and the mouth. However, rinsing the mouth with water after using the steroid lowers the risk of infections.
Systemic steroids such as prednisolone, prednisone and methylprednisolone are used for treating severe asthma attack. Rarely are they used for a prolonged period becasuse it’s hard to keep asthma under control. Systemic steroids are considered safe when taken for a short time to treat acute asthma attack. Long-term use of the drug is linked to stomach upset, acne, behavioral changes, vision changes, bone loss and weight gain.
Mast cell stabilizers are used for treating asthma attacks induced by allergies. Cromolyn sodium is a common mast cell stabilizer used in asthma treatment. It provides relief from the symptoms of asthma by inhibiting release of inflammatory chemicals called histamines from the mast cells.
Mast cell stabilizers are also recommended for people susceptible to exercise induced asthma. These asthma medications work slowly. It usually takes about three to four weeks to experience the benefits of the drug. Side effects of the medication include cough, wheezing, dry throat, irritation in the throat and bad taste in the mouth.
Long Acting Beta Agonists
The long acting beta agonists such as formoterol and salmeterol help to alleviate symptoms of moderate to severe asthma. They help to open up the airways, thereby aiding easy flow of air in the lungs. Sometimes, these bronchodilators are used along with inhaled steroids. The effect of the drug lasts for at least 12 hours. It is widely recommended for treating nighttime symptoms of asthma.
Theophylline is used occasionally for treating mild asthma. It acts as a bronchodilator, keeping the airways open for several hours. It also reduces the sensitivity of the lungs to allergens that trigger asthma attack. Available in the form of tablets and syrup, this asthma medication is taken orally, usually on empty stomach, once to four times a day. Occasionally, this drug is used for healing breathing difficulties in premature infants. Theophylline is considered safe. Rarely does it cause bothersome side effects such as headache, diarrhea, nausea, restlessness, behavioral changes and increased urination.
Leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast, zileuton and zafirlukast, work by inhibiting the activities of chemicals produced by the immune system called leukotrienes that induce inflammation of the muscles of the airways, triggering asthma attack. These medications ease breathing by improving airflow in the lungs. They are especially effective in people susceptible to allergic asthma. These drugs might interfere with the activities of blood thinning drugs called warfarin and theophylline. Common side effects of these drugs include nausea, vomiting, headache, irritability and insomnia.
Omalizumab is beneficial for people prone to allergic asthma. By obstructing the activities of the protein IgE, it prevents asthma attack. High levels of IgE produced during allergic reactions, irritates the airways, triggering the symptoms of asthma.
This immunomodulator is especially recommended for treating allergic asthma that does not respond to inhaled corticosteroids. Moderate to severe asthma is treated with omalizumab injections administered once in every two to three weeks. Common side effects of the medication include itching, swelling, pain or bruising at the site of the injection. Anaphylaxis is a rare side effect of the drug.
Anticholinergic agents work as bronchodilators. By reducing mucus production they help to open up the airways, thereby improving airflow in the lungs and easing breathing. The anticholinergic agent ipratropium, available in the form of nasal sprays, is occasionally used for treating chronic asthma.
However, this medication might not provide relief from acute asthma attack. Although anticholinergic agents are well tolerated, in some cases they might cause nasal drying, bleeding, crusting and rash. These medications are not recommended for people suffering from narrow angle glaucoma, bladder obstruction and prostrate enlargement.