Step 7: Asthma drugs
Your doctor will determine which medications you should take, the amount (dosage), and how often you should take them. The treatment plan will depend largely on the severity of your asthma.
Guidelines developed by the National Institutes of Health recommend a "step-down, step-up" approach to asthma management. This simply means that you will first be given drugs at a dosage high enough to quickly bring your symptoms under control. Then, as your doctor monitors you with follow-up visits, the dosage may be lowered until you are taking the least amount of drug required to keep you symptom-free. Your doctor may also change your medicine.
If your asthma gets worse, your doctor will "step up" the dose back to a level needed to control your asthma.
The severity of your asthma will impact how fast your symptoms can be controlled, but you should start feeling better after treatment is started. For people with mild-to-moderate persistent asthma, the doctor should be able to fine-tune the treatment within 3 months. For those with severe persistent asthma, it may take up to 6 months. Even when asthma seems to be controlled, all people with the condition should still visit their doctor at least twice a year to make sure that they still have good control.
You may have more side effects from the medications at the beginning when you are taking higher doses. These are likely to get better if the dosages are lowered. Always tell your doctor about any side effects.
Note: The inhalers pictured here are just examples. Inhalers for both control and quick relief medicine come in many sizes, shapes, and colors. In addition, your medicine can be taken through other methods, such as a nebulizer.
Control vs. relief
There are two major types of asthma drugs. The first type is called a long-term control drug. These medicines are used to PREVENT asthma attacks in people with persistent asthma. They must be taken every day to work well -- even when you have no asthma symptoms. If you have young children with asthma, your child can call these the "quiet" drugs -- the drugs to take every day, even when your child is NOT wheezing, coughing, or experiencing other symptoms. (This is a term the consumer group Mothers of Asthmatics finds useful.)
Click here to read more about the major kinds of long-term control drugs
The second type of asthma medicine is called a quick-relief drug. These medicines are used DURING an asthma attack to bring fast relief. With children, you might want to refer to these as the "noisy drugs" -- the ones to take when your child IS coughing, wheezing, having breathing difficulties, or feeling chest tightness. If you need these drugs too often, you should call your doctor.
Click here to read more about the major kinds of quick-relief drugs
National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Rockville, MD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2007. NIH publications 08-4051.