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Each type of medication for asthma is used to either prevent attacks from occurring or treat the symptoms of an attack once it has started. Both long-acting medications (such as steroids) and rapid-acting "rescue" medications (such as certain bronchodilators) are available. Because it's important to take the right medicine at the right time, you may want to create an asthma action plan with your healthcare provider.

Understanding Asthma Medicines -- An Overview

Thanks to a wide variety of medicines for asthma, many people can control their asthma symptoms, reducing (or even eliminating) severe asthma attacks. Asthma treatment is now available in a variety of forms, including products that can be used by very young children. While some people with mild asthma need only one medicine, many people need to take several medicines to treat the condition.
Asthma is a chronic disease that affects your airways, which are the tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs. If you have asthma, the inside walls of your airways are inflamed (swollen). The inflammation makes the airways highly sensitive, and they tend to react strongly to things that you are allergic to or find irritating. This causes symptoms of asthma, including:
  • Wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe)
  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trouble breathing.
Some asthma drugs work directly to open the airways, while others work to prevent allergic reactions. Some are rapid-acting "rescue medicines" used to relieve an asthma attack, while others are long-acting and help to prevent attacks from occurring. Types of asthma medicines include:
  • Steroids
  • Bronchodilators
  • Combination medicines
  • Miscellaneous other asthma medicines.


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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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