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Understanding Asthma Medications (cont.)

What Are Asthma Medications and Medical Treatments?

The main goals in asthma treatment are to prevent asthma attacks and to control the disease. Avoiding triggers that induce or aggravate asthma attacks is an important aspect of prevention. Medications used to prevent asthma attacks (controller medications) focus on decreasing the airway inflammation that causes attacks. Rescue medications help open up your airway and are used for quick relief when asthma symptoms occur despite the use of controller medications.

Most of the inhaler therapies have been changed recently because of the government mandate to remove chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from the devices in an attempt to prevent further damage to the earth's ozone layer. These inhalers have changed to a new propellant, hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), or powder devices. This change in delivery system resulted inadvertently in removing all generic inhalers from the market and only proprietary (brand name) options were available until recently. The FDA approved levalbuterol as a generic for the rescue inhaler known as Xopenex. Additionally, this medication is also available as a generic in nebulized form along with the inhaled steroid budesonide (Entocort, Uceris, Pulmicort).

Corticosteroid Inhalers for Asthma: Use, Side Effects, and Interactions

Patient Comments

Beclomethasone (Qvar), budesonide (Pulmicort), flunisolide (AeroBid), fluticasone (Flovent, Arnuity), mometasone (Asmanex), and triamcinolone (Azmacort, which was discontinued at the end of 2009) are used as first-line asthma medicines. A small amount of inhaled corticosteroids is swallowed with each dose, but it's much less than that contained in oral corticosteroids. Therefore, inhaled corticosteroids decrease the likelihood of adverse effects from long-term use of steroids.

How corticosteroid inhalers work

Inhaled corticosteroids are often the first type of medication prescribed to control asthma. By inhaling the medication, these drugs act locally to decrease inflammation within the breathing passages, thereby avoiding the side effects associated with long-term use of oral corticosteroids.

Who should not use these medications

  • Individuals allergic to corticosteroids or any of the inhaler contents should not use these drugs.
  • Individuals with status asthmaticus or acute asthma attacks should not use these drugs.


Corticosteroids for asthma are typically available as handheld inhalers containing liquid or powder. Many inhaled products have specific devices, and you should be thoroughly informed on how to use the inhaler prescribed for you. Frequency of administration (how often you use the inhaler) depends on the specific product.

Drug or food interactions

Since the drug is localized to the airway, no drug interactions have been reported.

Side effects

Do not use for an acute asthma attack. Inhaled corticosteroids work to slowly decrease airway inflammation and usually are of limited benefit during an acute attack of asthma. That is why these medications are maintenance or controller medication. They are not intended for use to treat an acute attack. Inhaled corticosteroids may decrease growth in children, so use the lowest dose possible. Inhaled corticosteroids may also increase the risk of serious or fatal infection in individuals exposed to serious viral infections like chickenpox or measles. Long-term use may cause cataracts or glaucoma (increased pressure within the eyes). These medications may increase the risk of pneumonia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Asthma Medications:

Asthma Medications - Treatment

What kind of medical treatment have you received for your asthma?

Asthma Medications - Corticosteroid Inhaler Side Effects

What side effects have you experienced from inhaled corticosteroids?

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