a lung scan and a red inhaler and a blue inhaler

Rescue Inhalers Vs. Maintenance Inhalers

Like many medical conditions, asthma is not “one size fits all.” There are currently 25 million people with asthma, and what works to manage one person’s symptoms may not apply to others. My personal journey with asthma has introduced me to a few different inhaler types, including rescue inhalers and maintenance inhalers.1

So, what’s the big deal? Isn’t every inhaler basically the same thing? Not necessarily. In the case of rescue and maintenance inhalers, there are a few similarities, but when it comes to symptom management, it can also be useful to know what each type of inhaler can’t do.

What do rescue and maintenance inhalers do?

While we get to know rescue vs maintenance inhalers, here’s a short introduction to the function of each type of inhaler:

  • Rescue inhalers. This inhaler type is also called a quick-relief medication or rescue medication. As the name suggests, rescue inhaler medication opens the lungs and relaxes the airways. However, they are not meant to be used on a daily basis.
  • Maintenance inhalers. These long-term control medications can help reduce asthma-related swelling and tightening in the airways and some medications also block the immune system chemicals that can trigger asthma symptoms. These are typically prescribed for more frequent use.

Each type of inhaler serves the important purpose of managing asthma symptoms before they lead to severe health issues including an asthma attack, and in my experience, both types of inhalers are important for long-term management of chronic asthma. But when do you take them?

When to use one inhaler type over the other

Since asthma can vary from person to person, not everyone will need to have or take both rescue and maintenance inhalers. However, for us asthmatics who need a daily, long-term maintenance plan to make sure our lungs stay open and fully functional, it’s important to remember which inhaler to take at what time.

  • Rescue inhalers. Also called “quick-relief” inhalers, rescue inhalers are sometimes taken before exercise and/or during the onset of asthma symptoms, depending on the person. The fast-acting medication in rescue inhalers begins working within minutes and can be effective for four to six hours.2
  • Maintenance inhalers. Long-term control inhalers are usually taken every day, even when there are no symptoms present. This inhaler type sometimes needs to be taken for several months before the maximum benefit is felt.2

Common rescue and maintenance asthma meds

Within these two types of asthma management inhalers, there are multiple types of medications that each work a little bit differently. Although learning about all the different types of asthma medications can be overwhelming, it’s good news because that means more options to find the right medication balance.

Rescue inhaler medications:

Maintenance inhaler medications:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Long-acting beta agonists
  • Combinations of multiple medication types

My asthma treatment plan

For my asthma treatment plan, I take a long-term inhaler every day and keep a rescue inhaler on hand for sudden symptoms. Even though this manages my asthma effectively enough that I rarely feel symptoms, I still keep both types of inhalers refilled because that’s what works for me. It did take a few tries with multiple types of maintenance inhalers to find what worked best with my chronic asthma, but finding the right balance with both inhaler types has helped me fully experience life and has been well worth the journey.

What about you? How do you have a maintenance inhaler and a rescue inhaler? Share in the comments below!

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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 Asthma.net 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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