Breathing Easy with Asthma Medications

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For parents, it's often a shock when their child's pediatrician returns with a diagnosis of asthma. They can feel overwhelmed because as of yet, asthma cannot be cured. However, parents and children alike should take heart in the knowledge that with preventative measures and appropriate treatment, asthma can be controlled.

Treating Asthma

Many asthma patients do not believe they need to take medications daily if they are feeling OK. The truth is that if your child has asthma, his or her airways are inflamed every day, so the asthma needs to be managed every day. Asthma attacks can be prevented or lessened by avoiding triggers (allergens, pet dander and cigarette smoke) but isn't always enough. This is why it's so important to take asthma medication as prescribed by your child's pediatrician.

Understanding Asthma Medications

There are two approaches to treating asthma: preventing asthma attacks with controller medications and stopping asthma attacks when they occur with a fast-acting inhaler or "rescue" medication. First, I'll provide an overview of the types of controller medications that are available for the long-term treatment of asthma. They are intended to minimize attacks and lessen the need for rescue medications.

Controller Medications

These are the most important drugs for most people with asthma. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. As a result, airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to triggers. These medications need to be taken daily and may need to be taken for several weeks before they begin to control asthma.

  • Controller medications are taken daily and include inhaled corticosteroids (fluticasone (Flovent Diskus, Flovent HFA), budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler), mometasone (Asmanex), ciclesonide (Alvesco), flunisolide (Aerobid), beclomethasone (Qvar) and others).
  • Combination inhalers contain an inhaled corticosteroid plus a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA). LABAs should never be prescribed as the sole therapy for asthma. Combination medications include fluticasone and salmeterol (Advair Diskus, Advair HFA), budesonide and formoterol (Symbicort) and mometasone and formoterol (Dulera).
  • Leukotriene modifiers are oral medications that include montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast (Accolate) and zileuton (Zyflo, Zyflo CR).

Rescue Medications

Rescue medications are also called quick-relief or fast-acting medications. They work immediately and should be taken when symptoms like chest tightness, difficulty breathing or wheezing occur. Some doctors will prescribe these medicines to be taken before exercise.  The more asthma is controlled, the less "rescue" meds will be needed. If you need rescue meds more than twice a week, talk to your doctor about getting on a controller. Short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) like albuterol, are used to quickly open the airways and relieve  symptoms during asthma "attacks." For more information, check out this recommended reference site for asthma medications. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlZ7R07OrR4

Staying Healthy

Work closely with your child's pediatrician and specialist so that both you and your child will be better informed about how to manage asthma on a daily basis. Helping your child to remember to take their medication is a great step forward in teaching them how to manage their asthma as an adult. Learn more about The Division of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.