Treatment - Asthma - Treatment

If you are diagnosed with asthma, your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan to manage your asthma symptoms and prevent asthma attacks. Treatment usually depends on your age, asthma severity, and response to a given treatment option. Your doctor may adjust your treatment until asthma symptoms are controlled.

Most people are treated long-term with daily controller(s), along with another inhaler for short-term relief, when they have symptoms or to prevent symptoms. An inhaler allows the medicine to go into the mouth and airways.

Watch our video to learn about treatment for asthma. 

Short-term relief medicines

Short-term relief medicines, also called quick-relief medicines, help prevent symptoms or relieve symptoms during an asthma attack. They may be the only medicines needed for mild asthma or asthma that happens only with physical activity.

Your doctor will prescribe a quick-relief inhaler for you to carry at all times. Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to learn how to use your asthma inhaler correctly.

Types of short-term relief medicines include:

  • Inhaled short-acting beta2-agonists (SABAs) to quickly relax tight muscles around your airways. This allows the airways to open so air can flow through them. Side effects can include tremors and rapid heartbeat. If symptoms and medical history suggest asthma, doctors may treat it with inhaled corticosteroids for a trial period to see whether they help. If symptoms do not improve, corticosteroids will be stopped to avoid side effects.
  • Oral and intravenous (IV) corticosteroids to reduce inflammation caused by severe asthma symptoms.
  • Short-acting anticholinergics to help open the airways quickly. This medicine may be less effective than SABAs, but it is an option for people who may have side effects from SABAs.

Control medicines

Your doctor may prescribe long-term control medicines to take daily to help prevent symptoms by reducing airway inflammation and preventing narrowing of the airways. Treatment with specific control medicines may differ depending on age, such as whether the person is an adult or child. Return to Causes to review what causes asthma symptoms.

Control medicines include the following.

  • Corticosteroids to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Your doctor may prescribe inhaled or oral (as a pill) corticosteroids. Common side effects from inhaled corticosteroids include a hoarse voice or a mouth infection called thrush. A spacer or holding chamber on your inhaler can help avoid these side effects. Oral corticosteroids can have more side effects than inhaled corticosteroids, because the medicine goes outside the lungs.
  • Biologic medicines, such as omalizumab, mepolizumab, reslizumab, and benralizumab, to target specific parts of the body’s response to allergens. Biologic medicines are antibodies used in people who have severe asthma. Benralizumab is injected into a vein, while the other medicines are injected below the skin or in a vein. They are given every few weeks.
  • Leukotriene modifiers to reduce inflammation and keep your airways open. You take these pills by mouth, alone or with corticosteroids, depending on what your doctor prescribes.
  • Mast cell stabilizers, such as cromolyn, to help prevent airway inflammation when you are exposed to allergens or other triggers. These medicines stop certain immune cells from releasing the signals that cause inflammation.
  • Inhaled long-acting bronchodilators, such as long-acting beta2-agonists (LABAs), to keep the airways open by preventing narrowing of the airways. LABAs may be added to your inhaled corticosteroids to reduce narrowing and inflammation. A similar medicine called inhaled long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMAs) is sometimes also used.
  • Allergy shots, called subcutaneous immunotherapy (SCIT), to reduce the body’s response to allergens. Instead of a shot, the allergens might also be inside a droplet or tablet that you put under your tongue. Rarely, it can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Emergency care

If you have a severe asthma attack and need emergency care, you may be treated with medicines, such as those listed above, given with a nebulizer or IV. You may also receive oxygen therapy or breathing assistance. This may include ventilator support or through a mask with forced air.

Procedures

In certain cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty if you have severe asthma and other treatments are not working. In this procedure, your doctor will enter the airways through the mouth with a bronchoscope. This helps your doctor see inside the airways. Your doctor will then apply heat to the muscles along the airways to make them thinner and help prevent constriction.