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Managing Your Medicines

Medicines play a key role in controlling asthma. Some help to prevent symptoms. Others are used to treat symptoms, if they occur.  It is important to use your medicines the right way. Ask your healthcare provider, nurse, or pharmacist to review how to correctly use them. Write down the instructions on your Asthma Action Plan.

Long-term control medicines

Close up of onhaler in woman's hand

These are also called maintenance or controller medicines. There are several different long-term control medicines. These medicines help reduce swelling of the airways or they may keep the airways open over the course of the day. And they help prevent asthma flare-ups.

Long-term medicines:

  • Are taken on a schedule. For most people, this means every day even when you feel fine.

  • Help keep asthma under control so you are less likely to have symptoms

  • Will not stop a flare-up once it has begun

Using inhaled corticosteroids

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommends inhaled corticosteroids for the long-term control of asthma in most people. Inhaled corticosteroids are safe for long-term use. They are not the steroids that you hear about athletes abusing. The usual prescribed doses of corticosteroids usually do not cause side effects. That’s because they are inhaled directly into the lungs, where they are needed. So they have little effect on the rest of the body.

You can also lower your chance of side effects even more by doing the following:

  • Ask your healthcare provider about using a spacer or holding chamber with your inhaler. They are devices that help the medicine get to your lungs more easily.

  • Rinse out your mouth with water after using the inhaler. This simple step will help prevent some side effects of the medicine.

  • Work with your healthcare provider to find the lowest dose that controls your asthma.

Quick-relief medicines

Quick-relief medicines are also called rescue medicines. They work by relaxing the muscles that tighten around the airways. This helps ease symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Keep your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times—even if you feel OK.

Quick-relief medicines:

  • Are inhaled when needed

  • Start to open the airways within a few minutes after you use them

  • Can help stop a flare-up once it has begun

  • Can help prevent flare-ups triggered by exercise

Tips for taking medicines

Remembering to take medicine each day can be hard for anyone. It can be even harder to remember when you don’t have symptoms. Try these tips for keeping on track:

  • Develop a routine. For example, take long-term controllers as part of getting ready for bed.

  • Refill your prescriptions on time so you don’t run out.

  • Carry your quick-relief medicine with you. If you can, keep a spare quick-relief inhaler at work or at school, or any place you spend a lot of time.

  • When you travel, make sure you have enough medicine to last for your entire trip. And if you are flying, keep your medicines with you, not packed in your luggage.

  • Make sure you know how to use your inhaler. This includes how to tell if it is empty. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to show you if you are unsure.

Working with your healthcare provider

You and your healthcare provider can work together to:

  • Find the right dose. Over time, your healthcare provider may change your medicines. Your provider may raise or lower the dose of your controller medicine or change the medicine to a different one. For example, you may need different long-term medicine if you are using your quick-relief medicine more than 2 times a week. The goal is to find the dose that will control your symptoms without taking more than is needed.

  • Find the right medicines for you. Each person is different. It may take a while to find the right medicine or combination of medicines for you. If one medicine doesn’t work well for you, another may work better.

  • Lessen any side effects. If you have side effects, let your healthcare provider know. You may need to change the dose or switch to a different medicine.

  • Develop, use, and maintain an Asthma Action Plan. An asthma action plan is a written worksheet developed just for you. It is put together by you and your healthcare provider and gives exact steps to take for the early treatment of your asthma symptoms. These steps will help keep your asthma from getting worse. The worksheet also suggests when to call your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room. Explain the worksheet to your close family members, keep a copy with you, and take it with you to your healthcare appointments so it can be updated.  

You can get the most benefit from your medicines and have fewer side effects by working with your healthcare provider. Don’t stop taking your asthma medicine if you feel better.

Online Medical Reviewer: Blaivas, Allen J., DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2016
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