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Medications and Treatments to Control Asthma

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/19/2011

Asthma medications and treatments control asthma rather than cure it. They prevent asthma symptoms, reduce the need for rescue inhalers and help you maintain your normal daily activities. Learn about some of the most common treatments available for this condition.

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    Inhaled Corticosteroids

    Inhaled corticosteroids are asthma medications that control asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. This helps people with asthma avoid the need for rescue inhalers and emergency asthma treatment. These drugs work by reducing swelling of the airways. Once you started taking inhaled corticosteroids, your body needs to adjust to them before they provide full asthma control. Several types of inhaled corticosteroids treat asthma symptoms.

    Fluticasone

    Fluticasone, sold as Folvent Diskus or Flovent HFA, prevents the wheezing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing caused by asthma. Doctors usually instruct their patients to use this drug twice each day. You should follow your doctor’s instructions and read the package insert to ensure that you use this medication properly. Clean the inhaler weekly with a damp cotton swab. Your doctor may advise you not to drink grapefruit juice while taking this medication. Side effects of this drug include stuffy nose, difficulty speaking, sore throat, runny nose, headache and white patches in the mouth.

    Budesonide

    Budesonide, also called Pulmicort Flexhaler, prevents the body from releasing substances that cause inflammation. Because this drug prevents asthma attacks, you should not take it during an asthma attack. The drug does not work fast enough to treat asthma attacks. Discuss this drug with your doctor if you have herpes of the eyes, liver disease, a history of tuberculosis, osteoporosis or any type of infection. Side effects of budesonide include cough, sore throat, nosebleed, nausea, headache, vomiting, runny nose, diarrhea, stuffy nose, stomach pain and sores inside the mouth, according to Drugs.com.

    Mometasone

    Mometasone, sold as Asmanex, prevents asthma attacks and treats asthma symptoms. It allows someone with asthma to breathe more easily by reducing irritation in the air passages of the body. Doctors usually instruct patients to take this drug once or twice per day, depending on the severity of the patient’s asthma. Mometasone has several side effects, which include heartburn, headache, joint pain, back pain, muscle pain, loss of appetite, vomiting, stomach pain, dry throat, nosebleed, difficult or painful urination, nose irritation and painful menstrual peruids, according to PubMed Health.

    Beclomethasone

    Beclomethasone, also known as Qvar, is a synthetic steroid used to treat asthma symptoms. Because it comes in inhaler form, it goes right to the lungs, preventing chest tightness, wheezing, coughing and other symptoms. Doctors have used this drug for asthma treatment since 1976, making it a relatively safe prescription drug. The most common side effects of beclomethasone include throat inflammation, headache, cough and nausea. If you experience chemical irritation, it may cause wheezing or a mild cough. You may also experience hoarseness as a result of airway irritation.

    Ciclesonide

    Ciclesonide, also known as Alvesco, prevents asthma attacks in patients 12 years of age and older. When used regularly, it prevents the body from releasing inflammation-producing substances. Use caution when using this drug if you have a history of tuberculosis, osteoporosis, glaucoma, cataracts, throat infection or herpes infection of the eyes. Side effects of this drug include unpleasant taste, hoarseness, itching, skin rash, headache, dry mouth, mouth irritation, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, back pain and joint pain.

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    Long-Acting Beta Agonists

    Two long-acting beta agonists reduce swelling and open up airways that have narrowed. Salmeterol, sold as Serevent Diskus, relaxes the airway muscles to improve breathing. Use caution when taking this drug if you have heart disease, epilepsy, high blood pressure, liver disease, diabetes or thyroid disorders. If you have one of these conditions, your doctor may recommend a smaller dose of salmeterol or advise you to use a different drug. Salmeterol side effects include sweating, headache, nausea, throat irritation, vomiting, dry mouth, lightheadedness, dizziness, insomnia and diarrhea.

    Formoterol, or Foradil, also relaxes the muscles in the air passages of the body. Precautions to take with this drug are similar to those associated with salmeterol. Use caution if you have thyroid disorders, seizure disorders, diabetes, drug allergies, high blood pressure or heart disease. The side effects of formoterol include sleep problems, back pain, sore throat, muscle cramps, dizziness, headache, skin rash, anxiety, itching and voice changes.

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    Leukotriene Modifiers

    The body produces chemicals that cause asthma symptoms. These chemicals are called leukotrienes. These drugs provide 24-hour relief of asthma symptoms and help prevent asthma attacks.

    Montelukast

    Montelukast, better known as Singulair, treats asthma, prevents breathing difficulty during exercise and treats seasonal allergies that cause coughing and difficulty breathing. You should tell your doctor if you have liver disease before taking this drug. Since montelukast causes mental health changes in some people, call your doctor if you have side effects such as anxiety, aggressive behavior, depression, insomnia, sleep walking, tremors, agitation and suicidal thoughts. The most common side effects of montelukast include dizziness, headache, acid reflux, fatigue and stomach pain.

    Zileuton

    Zileuton, sold under the names of Zyflo and Zyflo CR, stops the formation of leukotrienes in order to prevent asthma attacks. This drug is a tablet that you take by mouth instead of inhale. It also comes in an extended-release form that controls asthma symptoms for longer periods of time. Because zileuton can interact with some drugs, it is important to tell your doctor about all prescription drugs, vitamins, herbal products, over the counter drugs and supplements you take. Use special caution if you take metoprolol, itraconazole, warfarin, ketoconazole, atenolol, nadolol, labetalol, amlodipine, cyclosporine, nefazodone and theophylline. Side effects of zileuton include heartburn, headache, nose irritation, pain in the face, throat irritation, diarrhea and fullness in the face.

    Zafirlukast

    Zafirlukast, sold under the brand name Accolate, also blocks the release of leukotrienes. If you have liver disease, your doctor may prescribe a different drug or reduce your dosage of this drug. Drugs.com recommends taking zafirlukast on an empty stomach. Side effects of zafirlukast include dizziness, fever, muscle pain, cold symptoms, nausea, sore throat, stomach pain, vomiting, headache and diarrhea.

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    Combination Inhalers

    Combination inhalers contain bronchodilators and corticosteroids for better control of asthma symptoms. Unfortunately, they may also increase your risk of severe asthma attacks, according to Mayo Clinic.com. Advair combines salmeterol with fluticasone, while Symbicort combines formoterol with budesonide.

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    Theophylline

    Theophylline treats mild asthma by dilating the muscles of the airway. Sold as Theo-24 and Uniphil, this drug makes the lungs less susceptible to irritants. The most common side effects of theophylline include behavioral changes, increased urination, headache, diarrhea, nausea, insomnia and irritability. Your doctor may recommend regular blood testing to make sure you have the correct amount of theophylline in your blood.

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    Rescue Inhalers

    Rescue inhalers work to stop asthma attacks that have already started. They also ease the symptoms of asthma. MayoClinic.com reports that these medications work effectively for approximately four to six hours. Rescue inhalers include pirbuterol, albuterol and levalbuterol. Side effects of these drugs include headache, fast heartbeat, sleepiness, dizziness, difficulty sleeping, muscle cramps, nervousness, tremor, heart palpitations, nausea and vomiting.

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    References

    MayoClinic.com: Asthma Medications: Know Your Options

    Drugs.com: Albuterol Side Effects

    Drugs.com: Pulmicort