What Are the Different Types of Prescription Asthma Medications?

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Asthma is an inflammatory condition. It is characterized by the airways swelling and narrowing, which can result in shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. Asthma is a condition that has no cure, but for most patients, it can be controlled. There are several different types of prescription asthma medications patients may use to control their asthma symptoms. Many patients take more than one type of medication.

Inhaled Corticosteroids

The purpose of inhaled corticosteroids is to prevent symptoms by helping in preventing your airways from swelling. They work by reducing airway hyper-responsiveness, blocking late-phase immune reaction to any allergen affecting the patient, and reducing inflammation and inhibiting eosinophils, basophils, mast cells and other inflammatory cells. Side effects may include dysphonia, thrush and reflex cough. Commonly prescribed corticosteroids include Pulmicort, Aerobid, Flovent, Azmacort and Qvar.

Long-Acting Beta-Agonist Inhalers

This type of prescription asthma medication, also referred to as LABA, is a type of medication known as a bronchodilator. This medication usually works for around 12 hours. LABAs are usually prescribed when inhaled corticosteroids have not been effective. This type of medication works by improving lung function, giving the patient more symptom-free days, reducing the need to use a rescue inhaler, reduces asthma symptoms, and decreases how many asthma attacks a patient has. Common side effects may include appetite changes, headache, nausea, shakiness, sore throat, sleeping troubles, dizziness, hyperactivity, feeling nervous, sinus pain, tremor and vomiting. Commonly prescribed LABAs include Foradil and Serevent.

Quick Relief Medications

This type of asthma medication only works for a short time, but it works quickly to alleviate asthma symptoms that have begun already. This type of medication is known as a bronchodilator. It works in the same ways that long-acting beta-agonist inhalers work. Side effects of short-acting bronchodilators may include rapid heart rate, headache, low potassium, restlessness, muscle tremors and sleep disorders. Steroids may cause increased appetite, nervousness and restlessness, flushing of cheeks or face, increased sweating, indigestion, lightheadedness or dizziness, and hiccups. Commonly prescribed quick relief medications include Albuterol, prednisone and Atrovent.

Allergy-Induced Asthma Medications

These medications are taken regularly to help in controlling the symptoms of asthma. They help in decreasing how sensitive the patient is to a certain allergen. Such medications include antihistamines, decongestants and immunotherapy injections. Patients with severe asthma and who also have allergies may also benefit from omalizumab. This medication alters the immune system and patients will have to have it injected once to twice a month. Immunotherapy, or allergy shots, are injections patients receive for a few months, about once a week. After a few months, they are administered once a month for up to five years. They help to decrease a patient’s immune system reaction to certain allergens over time.

Other Medications

Other medications may also be helpful in treating asthma. These include Singulair, Accolate and other leukotriene inhibitors. Nedocromil sodium and cromolyn sodium may be prescribed. While rarely used now, theophylline and aminophylline may be beneficial.


Mayo Clinic. (2010). Asthma. Retrieved on February 15, 2011 from the Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma/DS00021

PubMed Health. (2010). Asthma. Retrieved on February 15, 2011 from PubMed Health: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001196