Animation Movie Available Asthma Management: Quick-Relief and Controller Medications

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Talk to your doctor about your treatment goals and preferences and work together to come up with a treatment plan that is right for you.

Prescription Medications

Short-acting rescue medications

  • Short acting beta-2-agonists
  • Anticholinergics such as ipratropium bromide
  • Systemic corticosteroids
  • Magnesium sulfate

Long-term control medications

  • Inhaled corticosteroids
  • Oral corticosteroids
  • Mast cell stabilizers
  • Long-acting Beta-2-antagonists
  • Leukotriene modifiers
  • Methylxanthines
  • Immunodilators
  • Combination agents
Short-acting Rescue Medications

Short-acting rescue medications can be used to treat acute asthma symptoms or for long-term control.

Beta-2-agonists (Inhalers):
Asthma Inhaler for a Child
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Children are more likely to benefit from inhaled medications if a spacer is used with metered-dose asthma inhalers . The University of Arizona offers a table that compares the different brands of spacers. A study, though, found that there was no difference in how medication was delivered with homemade versus store-bought spacers. Talk to your doctor to find out what is right for you or your child.

Common names of beta-2-agonists (inhalers) include:

  • Albuterol
  • Levalbuterol
  • Pirbuterol

These drugs are bronchodilators, meaning they open the airways by relaxing the muscles around bronchial tubes. This can provide quick relief of acute symptoms. They can also be used as preventive medications prior to exercise. You must be careful not to overuse these drugs and contact your doctor right away if your symptoms are not controlled with recommended doses.

Common side effects include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Nervousness
  • Tremor
Ipratropium Bromide

Ipratropium is a bronchodilator. This is a type of medication that opens up narrowed breathing passages and may decrease mucus secretion. Tiotropium, a closely related medication, has also been studied for use in patients with asthma. These medications are taken by inhalation to help control the symptoms of lung diseases. Ipratropium and tiotropium help decrease coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and troubled breathing by increasing the flow of air into the lungs. It is not usually used in children.

When ipratropium inhalation is used to treat acute, severe attacks of asthma, it is usually used in combination with other bronchodilators. While these drugs are not commonly used to treat asthma except in the emergency room setting, there is some evidence that tiotropium can reduce the need for oral or inhaled corticosteroids in people with very severe and persistent asthma.

Common side effects include:

  • Cough
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Unpleasant taste
Corticosteroids (Oral)

Common names include:

  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisone
  • Prednisolone

These drugs are frequently used for a short duration to prevent the progression of moderate or severe symptoms, reverse inflammation, speed recovery, and reduce the risk of relapse. They are not truly rescue medications, but help prolong the effect of beta-2 agonist rescue.

Possible side effects include:

  • Indigestion
  • Lowered resistance to infections
  • Abnormalities in glucose metabolism
  • Increased appetite
  • Mood alteration
  • Fluid retention
Magnesium sulfate (inhaled)

Magnesium sulfate may be helpful in treating adults with acute asthma.

Long-term Control Medications

Long-term “control” medications are used to achieve and maintain long-term management of symptoms and reduce inflammation.

Corticosteroids (Inhaler)

Common names include:

  • Beclomethasone
  • Budesonide
  • Flunisolide
  • Fluticasone
  • Mometasone

These drugs suppress, control, and reverse inflammation. They can reduce the need for oral corticosteroids and rescue medication, and play a role in the long-term management of asthma.

Possible side effects include:

  • Oral thrush
  • Cough
Mast-cell Stabilizer Inhalers

Common names include:

  • Cromolyn sodium
  • Nedocromil

These drugs may be used for long-term prevention of symptoms. They modify inflammation and can be used as preventive treatment prior to exercise.

Possible side effects include:

  • Unpleasant taste
  • Cough
Long-acting Beta-2-agonists

Common names include:

  • Salmeterol
  • Formoterol

These drugs provide long-term prevention of symptoms, especially nighttime symptoms and are often added to anti-inflammatory therapy such as inhaled corticosteroids. They may also be used as preventive treatment prior to exercise or contact with a known allergen. However, they should not be used during an acute attack.

Possible side effects include:

  • Rapid heart beat
  • Tremor
  • Difficulty sleeping, nervousness

Long-acting inhalers, like salmeterol, may increase the risk of asthma-related death, intubation (putting a tube in the windpipe to breathe), and hospitalization. This is most likely to occur when they are mistakenly used as rescue inhalers. These medications are almost always prescribed together with an inhaled corticosteroid.

Note : If you have any concerns, talk to your doctor.


Common names include theophylline.

This type of drug provides long-term control and prevention of symptoms, especially nighttime symptoms. It works by opening the airways and relaxing the muscles around the bronchial tubes. It also increases the ability to clear mucus out of the airway.

Possible side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Difficulty with urination
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Upset stomach
Leukotriene Modifiers
  • Zafirlukast
  • Montelukast

Leukotriene inhibitors are medications that decrease inflammation by preventing the action of leukotrienes, which sustain inflammation. These types of medications are not used to relieve acute symptoms, but can be used to prevent your symptoms from occurring.

  • Possible side effects include:
    • Flu-like symptoms
    • Nervousness, excitability
    • Headache
    • Stomach pain
    • Cough
  • Zileuton

Leukotriene blockers are medications that decrease inflammation by stopping the production of leukotrienes. Used for long-term control and prevention in mild persistent asthma.

  • Possible side effects include:
    • Elevation of liver enzymes
    • Interactions with other medications

Common names include:

  • Omalizumab

This is an injected medication that binds to IgE, a type of antibody that contributes to allergic symptoms. These drugs provide long-term control and prevention of symptoms in mild, persistent asthma.

  • Possible side effects may include:
    • Pain and bruising at the injection site
    • Anaphylaxis has been reported
Corticosteroids (Oral)

Common names include:

  • Methylprednisolone
  • Prednisolone
  • Prednisone

These drugs help reduce inflammation and prevent escalation of symptoms. Oral corticosteroids can produce more side effects than inhaled corticosteroids. Long-term use of oral corticosteroids is not generally recommended. However, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids for long durations only when other treatments have failed to restore normal lung function and the risks of uncontrolled asthma are greater than the side effects of the medication.

Possible side effects include:

  • Indigestion, nausea, and possibly bleeding in the stomach
  • Lowered resistance to infections
  • Growth suppression (in children)
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones)
  • Cataracts
  • Adrenal suppression
  • Muscle weakness

To make dosing more convenient and prevent using the wrong inhaler, medications are frequently combined.

Common combinations include:

  • Fluticasone and salmeterol
  • Budesonide and formoterol

These drugs provide long-term control and prevention of symptoms by combining the effects of a long-acting beta-2-agonist and inhaled steroid into one formulation.

The side effects are similar to those described above for the individual medications.

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Do not share your prescription medication.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills as needed.

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