Asthma medications are usually grouped into relievers and preventers. Preventers are used daily to prevent asthma symptoms, whereas reliever medicines are used when necessary to relieve symptoms.
- Preventers are used daily to prevent asthma symptoms.
- Relievers are used when necessary to relieve symptoms.
Most are taken using inhalers or "puffers". Other asthma medicines come in the form of a dry powder or fine spray that is only released when you breathe in. Sometimes, medicine can be breathed in as a vapour through a nebuliser. Some asthma medications are in tablet form, including prednisone, which is usually only used to treat severe asthma flare-ups.
It is very important to follow your doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice on using these medicines.
You may need to use one or more asthma medications to manage your asthma. If you have severe asthma, you will probably need other medications as well. Asthma Australia has more information on the treatment of severe asthma.
People with asthma should also have a written asthma action plan to help them recognise worsening symptoms and know how to respond.
There are 2 main types of asthma medication: relievers and preventers.
Relievers are fast-acting asthma medications. They provide quick relief from the symptoms of asthma — wheeze, chest tightness, cough and shortness of breath.
Also called ‘bronchodilators’, relievers relax the airway muscles and open the airways, making it easier to breathe. They work within minutes, with the effects lasting for up to 4 hours.
Anyone with asthma should always carry a reliever. Relievers usually come in a blue or grey inhaler (puffer) device. A well-known reliever is Ventolin (salbutamol).
Preventers help to control asthma symptoms and prevent attacks. They reduce the inflammation (redness and swelling) in the airways, making them less sensitive.
Many adults with asthma take a preventer — usually as an inhaler which delivers a low dose of corticosteroid to the lungs.
Corticosteroid preventers are usually prescribed for an adult who:
- has had asthma symptoms twice or more in the last month
- is sometimes woken up by asthma symptoms
- has had a flare-up requiring an urgent visit to a GP or emergency department in the last 12 months
Combination medications are preventers that also contain a second medication, a 'long-acting bronchodilator', as well as the corticosteroid. The long-acting bronchodilator helps to relax the tightened airway muscles, allowing the airways to open and more air to reach the lungs.
Preventers take several days or even weeks to work (so they’re not for the quick relief of symptoms). To work properly, preventers need to be used every day, even when you have no symptoms.
How to use an inhaler
Asthma inhalers are hand-held portable devices that deliver medication to the lungs. They must be used properly to help achieve the best control of asthma.
If you are using a puffer, you may benefit from using a spacer — a plastic container with a mouthpiece or mask at one end — to ensure the asthma medication gets into your lungs.
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Last reviewed: November 2020