Developing a Positive Relationship With Your New Asthma Medication

When you have asthma, your airways are chronically inflamed and this leads to breathing difficulties. Unfortunately, asthma can rarely be treated effectively with only lifestyle changes or "natural" approaches. So, the foundation of asthma treatment is asthma medication.

Because of this, it's a smart idea to accept the need for medication when you have asthma and learn how to get the most out of it. That will better ensure your asthma is well-controlled and does not interfere with the quality of your life.

4 pillars of asthma treatment

The National Asthma Education and Prevention Program, part of the National Institutes of Health, developed guidelines for asthma care. In those guidelines, they outline 4 pillars of asthma treatment, all of which work best when used together:1

  1. Assess and monitor asthma severity and control
  2. Teach and promote partnership in care between the patient and the healthcare team
  3. Control environmental factors (triggers) and other related health conditions
  4. Use medication to enhance asthma control

You and your healthcare team will need to work together on all these areas to achieve consistent asthma control. Let's talk about you and making the most out of your medication.

Understanding asthma medications

Before I get into tips in dealing with asthma medication, it's important to note that there are 2 main types of medication:1

  • Controller, sometimes called preventer, medicines (long-acting)
  • Quick-relief, or rescue medicines (short-acting)

Daily controller medications help asthma stay under control and prevent asthma attacks. Quick-relief medicines are used as needed when asthma symptoms arise or control slips.

Quick relief medications are generally in the form of albuterol-based inhalers. There have not been many changes in this type of medication over the years.

However, controller medications have changed greatly over the past couple of decades. Since asthma has become such a common disease, there has been a considerable amount of research and development. So, new and improved medications come on to the market frequently. There is also a variety of types of controller medicines, including:1

  • Inhaled and oral steroids
  • Long-acting bronchodilators
  • Combination inhaled steroids/long-acting bronchodilators
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Cromolyn sodium
  • Immunomodulators
  • Methylxanthines

Some of these medicines are used more than others these days. What your doctor prescribes for you will depend on your specific health history and status. It may also depend to some extent on the preferences and experience of your healthcare team.

Over the years, many asthma medications have been discontinued. This is not usually because they were deemed unsafe. More likely, it is because something newer and more effective has been developed.

Tips for getting the most out of your asthma medications

You may be newly diagnosed with asthma and brand new to this type of medication. Or, perhaps you have just been given a different prescription for a new asthma medicine you haven't taken before. Either way, there can be a period of adjustment as you add this medicine (or these medicines) into your daily routine.1

Give your controller medicine time to start working to its full power. This type of medicine doesn't produce immediate results. It can take days or even weeks for it to build up to therapeutic levels in your system and bring about optimal asthma control. So you may need to use your quick-relief inhaler more often during this interim period.1

Keep your doctor informed and be prepared to be flexible. The asthma treatment guidelines mentioned above recommend a stepwise approach to treating asthma. This means that depending on what stage or level of asthma you are in, medication might need to be stepped up -- or down -- to achieve optimal control. Sometimes this is a bit of a trial and error process to find the right medication and the right dosage for you. This is easier for your healthcare team if you let them know how you're responding to the medication regimen as you go along.1

Make sure you know the correct technique for using your prescribed inhalers. There are different types of inhalers used for treating asthma. Some dispense the medicine in a fine mist, while others deliver it in a dry powder. Have your doctor, nurse or respiratory therapist check your technique to make sure you're getting the right dose of medication.1

Work with your doctor to develop a personalized Asthma Action Plan. An action plan is a written guide to all aspects of your asthma treatment and control, including medication. It will help you to recognize when asthma control is slipping and will tell you what action steps to take, including medication adjustments.1

Learn about each medication that is prescribed for you. When you understand the facts about your medication, including its name, dosage, and mechanism of action, you are more likely to stay consistent with its use. Ask questions; read the insert that comes with your prescription and seek out any answers you need. Also, ask your doctor what to expect and if there are any side effects to be on the lookout for.1

In summary

It is not uncommon during the first year of treatment after an asthma diagnosis for the medication regimen to change more than once. This may also be the case if your asthma control status changes, even after the first year.

The goal of asthma treatment is always to establish control. Every person can respond somewhat differently to the same medication, so your healthcare team may need to experiment with different medications and combinations of medications over time to find what works best for you. As long as you are part of that team and maintain open lines of communication, you should be able to develop a positive relationship with your asthma medication.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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