Asthma Medications

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last Reviewed: May 2022. | Last updated: June 2022

Prescription drugs for asthma fall into 2 types. Control medications are taken long-term to prevent sudden asthma attacks. Rescue medications relieve symptoms fast when an asthma attack comes on suddenly. Most people with asthma use both types of drugs.1

There are hundreds of different asthma prescription drugs. The ones your doctor recommends will be based on your:1

  • Age
  • Type of asthma you have
  • How severe your asthma is
  • The side effects of the medicine
  • Any other health issues you may have

Also, your asthma may change over time. As your asthma changes, you may need to change your medicines too.

Asthma control medications

Asthma control drugs may work in several different ways to prevent asthma attacks. Some reduce inflammation in the airways. Others help open the airways. Others help control allergies. Some people need more than 1 drug to control their asthma. Examples of asthma control medicines include:1

  • Inhaled steroids (also called corticosteroids)
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs)
  • Theophylline
  • Combination inhalers that include a steroid and a LABA

Asthma control medicines must be taken regularly to reduce inflammation and make the airways less reactive. Also, control drugs do not work quickly enough to help during an attack. You will need a rescue inhaler to open your airways quickly if you have an asthma attack.1

Inhaled controller medications

Most people know inhaled steroids simply as their “controller inhaler.” Most people with asthma use an inhaler. These drugs reduce inflammation, making the airways less sensitive. Some inhalers combine a steroid and a LABA. There are many types of inhalers with different dose schedules and strengths.

Here are some of the most common names of inhalers used by people with asthma:1-3

  • Advair (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol)
  • Airduo (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol)
  • Alupent (metaprotereol sulfate)
  • Alvesco (ciclesonide)
  • Arnuity Ellipta (fluticasone furoate)
  • Asmanex (mometasone furoate)
  • Azmacort (triamcinolone acetonide)
  • Breo (fluticasone fuorate and vilanterol)
  • Dulera (mometasone furoate and formoterol)
  • Flovent (fluticasone propionate)
  • Foradil (formoterol fumarate)
  • Pulmicort (budesonide)
  • QVAR (beclomethasone diproprionate)
  • Serevent (salmeterol xinafoate)
  • Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol)
  • Trelegy Eliipta (fluticasone furoate and umeclidinium and vilanterol)

This is not a complete list of all the asthma inhalers available for controlling symptoms. There are also many generics.2

Pills for asthma control

Leukotriene modifiers are a type of drug used in some people with mild to moderate asthma. These come in pill form. They also can be used with an inhaler if someone has moderate to severe asthma or problems using steroids. Examples of these drugs include:2,3

  • Accolate (zafirlukast)
  • Singulair (montelukast)
  • Zyflo (zileuton)

Prednisone and methylprednisolone are 2 steroids sometimes used to treat severe asthma attacks.1

Biologics for asthma control

Biologics are drugs made from living cells. These cells can come from parts of the blood, proteins, viruses, or tissue. These cells are used to produce a complex molecule, the active ingredient in the biologic that is used to prevent, treat or cure disease.

Some examples of biologics prescribed to control severe asthma include:1-3

  • Cinqair (reslizumab)
  • Dupixent (dupilumab)
  • Fasenra (benralizumab)
  • Nucala (mepolizumab)
  • Xolair (omalizumab)

Allergy control medicines

Some people with asthma have attacks triggered by things they are allergic to. Allergy control drugs help reduce the body’s sensitivity to allergens. Allergens are things in the environment that trigger allergy symptoms like sneezing, wheezing, chest tightness, teary eyes, coughing, and more.

There are many treatments for allergies, including:1,2

  • Allergy shots and pills (immunotherapy)
  • Over-the-counter and prescription allergy drugs (antihistamine pills and steroid or antihistamine nose sprays)

Other medications

A few other types of medications that are not steroids may also be used to control asthma, such as:1

  • Theophylline
  • Spiriva (tiotropium bromide)
  • cromolyn sodium inhaler

Rescue inhalers for asthma attacks

Rescue medicines do just what the name says: Work quickly enough to rescue you during an asthma attack. These drugs should be used for short periods of time for symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and cough. You may also hear these drugs called SABAs, which stands for short-acting beta-agonist.

Rescue inhalers work by relaxing the airway muscles. Used early, this can help keep an asthma attack from getting worse. These drugs begin to work in minutes, and the effects last for 4 to 6 hours. Examples of rescue inhalers include:1,2

  • Albuterol (Some brand names include: Accuneb, Proair Digihaler, ProAir HFA, ProAir Respiclick, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA)
  • Levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)

Other rescue medicine

Epinephrine (commonly known as an Epi-Pen) may be used to treat anaphylaxis, a serious allergic reaction that causes trouble breathing. Anaphylaxis is life-threatening if not treated immediately.1

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