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Asthma Medications

Your health care provider may prescribe asthma medications for you. They may include quick-relief medications and long-term control medications. Know the names of your medications. Also know how each one works and when to use it. Take only prescribed medications. And use them as directed in your treatment plan.

Quick relief medications

These medications work quickly to open the airways, making it easier to breathe right away.

Short-acting bronchodilators

  • Relax muscles that tighten around the airways

  • Help stop flare-ups once they've started

  • Help prevent flare-ups caused by exercise


Inhaled: albuterol (Ventolin, Proventil); terbutaline (Brethaire); metaproterenol (Alupent, Metaprel); bitolterol (Tornalate); pirbuterol (Maxair); ipratropium plus albuterol (Combivent)

Possible side effects

Inhaled: Shakiness; nervousness; dizziness; faster heartbeat. If you feel you need to use these medications more often than prescribed, call your health care provider.

Anticholinergics (not to be used alone for quick relief)

  • A type of bronchodilator that may be used along with a short-acting bronchodilator to stop a flare-up

  • Relax muscles that tighten around the airways

  • Take longer to work than short-acting bronchodilators


Inhaled: ipratropium (Atrovent)

Possible side effects

Inhaled: May cause dry mouth. Can cause blurred vision if it gets in your eyes.

Medications for long-term control

These medications help keep your asthma under control and reduce your chances of having a flare-up. Some, called long-acting bronchodilators, relax the muscles that tighten around the airways. Others, called anti-inflammatories, prevent or reduce airway inflammation. Still others, called leukotriene modifiers, block the body's response to some asthma triggers. To work, most of these medications must be used daily.

Note: Long-term control medications will not stop a flare-up once it has begun.

Long-acting bronchodilators

  • Work longer, but more slowly, than short-acting bronchodilators

  • Can help prevent nighttime flare-ups or flare-ups caused by exercise

  • Help prevent a flare-up, but cannot stop a flare-up in progress


Inhaled: salmeterol (Serevent); salmeterol plus fluticasone (Advair)

Swallowed: theophylline (Slo-bid, Slo-Phyllin, Somophyllin, Theo-Dur, Uniphyl)

Possible side effects

Inhaled or Swallowed: Headache; dizziness; insomnia; nervousness; muscle twitching; faster heartbeat; nausea. Regular monitoring of theophylline levels in the blood can help prevent serious side effects such as seizures. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are taking any other medications.


  • A type of anti-inflammatory

  • Protect airways from irritants and allergens

  • Are not the same as anabolic steroids that bodybuilders may use


Inhaled: beclomethasone (Beclovent, Vanceril); triamcinolone (Azmacort); flunisolide (AeroBid; fluticasone (Flovent); budesonide (Pulmicort)

Swallowed: prednisone (Deltasone); methylprednisolone (Medrol); prednisolone (Prelone, Pediapred)

Possible side effects

Inhaled: Hoarseness; dry mouth; fungal mouth infection; headache. Unless you're using a dry-powder inhaler, use a spacer and rinse your mouth with water after inhaling to help prevent side effects.

Swallowed: Acne; weight gain; mood changes; high blood pressure; stomach, eye, or bone problems. If stopped too quickly or used for a long time, serious side effects may occur.

Other anti-inflammatories

  • Protect the airways from irritants and allergens

  • Help prevent flare-ups caused by exercise


Inhaled: cromolyn (Intal); nedocromil (Tilade)

Possible side effects

Inhaled: Dry throat; nausea. To some people, the medication may taste bad. Side effects are rare.

Leukotriene modifiers

  • Block the asthma response to some triggers


Swallowed: zafirlukast (Accolate); montelukast (Singulair)

Possible side effects

Swallowed: Headache; dizziness; nausea. Your blood may be monitored when you start this medication. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you are taking any other medications.

* This is not a complete list of asthma medications and does not imply endorsement of any type or brand. It also does not include all actions, adverse reactions, precautions, side effects, or interactions for these medications. Only your health care provider can prescribe these medications. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist about the possible side effects and drug or food interactions of any medication you use.

Online Medical Reviewer: Cineas, Sybil MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise AkinLouise Akin RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/12/2008
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