Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

Asthma symptoms include a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.

Asthma symptoms include a cough, wheezing, chest tightness and breathlessness.
beginning of content

Asthma treatment

3-minute read

Asthma treatment is based on two important goals:

  • relief of symptoms
  • preventing future symptoms and attacks from developing

Depending on how severe your asthma is, your doctor may prescribe you one or more types of asthma medicine:

  • A reliever medicine relaxes the airway muscles and makes it easier to breathe when you have asthma symptoms. If you find you are using your reliever more often than two times a week, you should see your doctor.
  • A preventer medicine helps to reduce the inflammation in your airways. It should be taken every day, even when you have no symptoms.
  • A symptom controller relaxes the airway muscles for 12-24 hours, helping to reduce the symptoms of asthma. Symptom controllers are always used with an inhaled corticosteroid medicine (preventer).
  • A combination medication contains both a preventer and a symptom controller in one inhaler.

Treatment should be designed to ensure your asthma is well controlled. This means:

  • you don’t have symptoms on more than two days a week
  • you don’t need your reliever medication on more than two days a week
  • your asthma doesn’t limit what you can do
  • you don’t have symptoms at night or when you wake up

You can test whether your asthma is well controlled with Asthma Australia’s Asthma Control Test.

Visit your doctor regularly to review your overall asthma management plan, including how well your medicines are working.

Always take your asthma preventer as instructed by your doctor, even when you are well.

Asthma medicines are usually given by inhalers (called meter dose inhalers, or MDIs), commonly referred to as ‘puffers’. Other delivery devices deliver the drug using a dry powder. Puffers and dry powder inhalers are devices that deliver the drug directly into the airways through your mouth when you breathe in and require some training to ensure an effective technique.

Using your inhaler properly is important. To check you are using your inhaler as effectively as possible, please review regularly with your doctor.

Often inhalers work better if given through a spacer, though many patients are unaware of this, and not receiving an adequate amount of medication. A spacer is a large plastic container with a mouthpiece at one end and a hole for the inhaler at the other. Spacers should be used by:

  • all children - aged under 4-5 years will need a mask attached to the spacer
  • all adults taking a corticosteroid preventer medication using an MDI/puffer
  • adults who have trouble coordinating the ‘press and breathe’ technique when using an MDI/puffer
  • anyone taking a reliever medication during an asthma attack

Managing your asthma means taking control of your health and living your life to the full. With the right knowledge, skills and medication you can do just about anything – asthma shouldn’t stop you.

You can find more information about the different medications you may need to use and how they work, along with how to use inhalers, and some information about complementary therapies, on the Asthma Australia website.

Last reviewed: June 2018

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Asthma treatment: children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

The aim of asthma treatment and management is to prevent asthma so children can lead normal lives. But you still need an emergency plan for asthma attacks.

Read more on Raising Children Network website

What other severe asthma treatments are there? - An Asthma Australia site

Can I stop my other asthma medication? When you start a biologic, you will also need to continue to take your preventer and reliever medication

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Asthma treatments and correct inhaler technique: Dr Peter Bremner | myVMC

Asthma medications (inhalers) include preventers of asthma symptoms and relievers of asthma attacks. The correct inhaler technique must be used.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

The cost of asthma medicines | Australian Prescriber

Out-of-pocket costs are a major factor contributing to poor adherence to asthma treatment. How can GPs help their patients save on costs?

Read more on Australian Prescriber website

Family therapy for asthma in children | Cochrane

Psychological factors may have an effect on asthma in children, or its severity. As some children with families who are having problems have severe asthma, family therapy has been tried. The aim is to resolve any problems there might be in a family, in case they are causing the child stress and then making asthma worse. The review found some evidence from two trials that family therapy (in addition to standard asthma treatments) might help reduce a child's asthma symptoms, but more research is needed to be certain.

Read more on Cochrane (Australasian Centre) website

Asthma in children

Find out more about the signs and symptoms of asthma, aids and tips to help you care for your child and what to do if your child has an asthma attack.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

About Asthma - An Asthma Australia site

National - About Asthma

Read more on Asthma Australia website

What is severe asthma? - An Asthma Australia site

Severe asthma is a term used by doctors to mean that your asthma symptoms are frequent or you experience frequent asthma flare-ups.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

How is asthma managed? - National Asthma Council Australia

We are a not-for-profit charity and the national authority for asthma knowledge, setting the standard for asthma care.

Read more on National Asthma Council Australia website

Introduction to Severe Asthma - An Asthma Australia site

Severe asthma is when your asthma symptoms are frequent, or you experience ongoing asthma flare-ups, even when you take your medication correctly and as prescribed, and when other causes and triggers for your symptoms have been ruled out.

Read more on Asthma Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo