How is asthma treated?

There are three steps that you should expect every time you are treated for asthma. Your healthcare professional will do the following:
  • Try to identify and treat the triggers and create an asthma plan for each of them. This will give you better asthma control and reduce your need for high-dose medications.
  • Identify lung inflammation and treat it with a targeted inhaled steroid medication.
  • Identify muscle tightness and treat it with an inhaler like albuterol.
Asthma is caused when inflammation is triggered in the lungs, which causes airway swelling, mucus production and a pinching or clamping down of the muscles around the lungs.

Pharmacotherapy can prevent and control asthma symptoms, improve quality of life, reduce frequency and severity of asthma exacerbations and reverse airflow obstruction. The two main classes of asthma medications are long-term control medications intended for daily use to treat chronic inflammation and maintain and achieve control, and short-acting quick-relief medications to treat acute symptoms and exacerbations.

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs) are the “gold standard” medication based on their ability to attenuate the underlying inflammation characteristic of asthma and reverse or improve airflow obstruction. ICSs are the most potent and consistently effective maintenance medication. They reduce symptom severity and improve quality of life, improve pulmonary function, prevent or reduce exacerbations and reduce systemic corticosteroid use, ER visits, hospitalizations and asthma mortality. Their greatly reduced bioavailability and accurate drug delivery to the distal airways result in a substantial reduction in side effects compared to systemic steroid use.

Poorly controlled asthma and chronic inflammation can lead to delayed growth. Although inhaled steroids may temporarily affect growth velocity, they do so to a small, non-progressive extent that may be reversible. Repeated use of systemic corticosteroids for uncontrolled asthma comes with far worse potential side effects and impact on growth.

In general, the efficacy of ICSs is sufficient to outweigh any concerns about growth or other systemic effects. However, they should be adjusted to as low a dose as needed to maintain good asthma control.

The contents of this website are for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Nor does the contents of this website constitute the establishment of a physician patient or therapeutic relationship. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Asthma is treated with two main types of medicines called relievers and controllers. Both of these asthma medicines come as inhalers. Sometimes people with asthma need other treatments that come as tablets. A doctor will help work out what's best for people with asthma.

Asthma can't really be prevented, but it can be controlled. Positive steps you can take to control your asthma include learning as much as possible about it. Have regular checkups with your primary care provider and use your medications as prescribed. Try to identify and avoid your asthma triggers. Pay attention to your asthma symptoms and level of control. Develop a written asthma action plan with your doctor or nurse practitioner.

About 70 percent of people who have asthma also have allergies, which may contribute to symptoms. Identifying any allergies you may have is an important step in treating your asthma effectively, because once you identify your allergens, you can take steps to avoid them. A variety of skin tests can help pinpoint your allergens. There are also blood tests that measure the amount of IgE that your body makes in response to certain allergens. IgE is an antibody that initiates allergy symptoms.

Even if you've had allergy testing in the past, your doctor may recommend retesting because the allergens you're sensitive to can change over time.

Dr. Paul M. Ehrlich, MD
Allergist & Immunologist

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health, recommends that treatment for asthma include four components:

  • Use of objective measures of lung function to assess the severity of asthma and to monitor the course of therapy
  • Comprehensive pharmacological therapy to reverse and prevent airway inflammation, which is characteristic of asthma, as well as to treat airway narrowing
  • Environmental control measures to avoid or eliminate factors that induce or trigger asthma exacerbations, including consideration of immunotherapy, which builds up the body's own allergy-fighting capacity
  • Patient education that fosters a partnership among the patient, his or her family, and the clinician
Asthma Allergies Children: A Parent's Guide

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Asthma is long-term condition that is typically managed with lifestyle changes to avoid asthma triggers and through use of medications. Medications are divided into two categories: quick relief and long-term controller medications. Quick relief agents include bronchodilators and corticosteroids and are used to provide relief during an asthma attack. Long-term controller medications are typically taken on a daily basis to control airway inflammation. These medications included inhaled corticosteroids, cromolyn or nedocromil, leukotriene modifiers, theophylline and long-acting beta 2-agonists. Some people whose asthma symptoms are triggered by allergies may benefit from allergy shots to reduce this trigger. Talk to your doctor about what treatments are right for you.

Asthma treatment options involves a two-tiered approach: preventing asthma attacks and stopping asthma attacks when they occur. Asthma attacks can be prevented or lessened by limiting exposure to allergens that can trigger attacks. Staying away from pet dander and cigarette smoke is helpful for people with asthma. Taking your medicine as directed is also a good way to prevent or lessen asthma attacks.

If you have an asthma attack, you will probably use a fast-acting inhaler. This instrument contains medicine which acts rapidly to expand your airways. If you find yourself using this kind of medicine too often, it is time to contact your doctor and adjust how you manage your asthma.

Dr. Brian D. Gelbman, MD
Pulmonary Disease Specialist

There are two general treatment modalities for asthma: maintenance therapy with inhaled steroids, and rescue therapy with a bronchodilator (albuterol). Watch as pulmonologist Brian Gelbman, MD, discusses asthma treatment and avoiding triggers.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.