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In this section: Medicines & Treatment | Controllers | Relievers | Biologic Treatment for Severe Asthma | Devices| Medication Myths | Asthma Action Plans

Asthma Medications and Treatment

When it comes to understanding all of the asthma treatments available, it’s natural to feel a little bit confused.

The important thing to remember is that asthma is a “variable” disease. In other words, asthma symptoms, severity and treatment plans can vary from person to person, and even the same person’s condition may fluctuate throughout the year.

The two most common types of asthma medications are controllers which treat the long-term, underlying inflammation in your airways and relievers which act as your rescue inhaler and provide fast but short-term relief of symptoms. You should speak with your healthcare professional about finding a treatment plan that is right for you.

If you have asthma, your healthcare team will:

  • Explain how you can keep your asthma under control by avoiding your personal triggers
  • Prescribe medication that will help minimize your symptoms
  • Show you how to take your medication properly, checking your inhaler technique
  • Work with you so you have a written Asthma Action Plan
  • Recommend that you visit on a regular basis so that your symptoms can be monitored and your treatments adjusted if necessary

Prescribing medication

In order to minimize possible side effects, your healthcare provider will prescribe the lowest dose of medication needed to control your symptoms. It may take some experimenting to find out what that dose is. You and your healthcare team might have to try a few different doses or a few different medications before you find what works best for you. Over time, your medication needs may change.

The asthma medications that are prescribed may differ from patient to patient. It is important that you understand how to take your medications and why you are taking them. Discuss your symptoms and asthma control with your healthcare team and work together to get the right treatment and dose of medication so that you can lead a normal life, unrestricted by asthma symptoms. These medications are prescribed for you to gain asthma control and to relieve your asthma symptoms. Do not stop taking your medications on your own.

Remember that asthma means having some underlying inflammation in your airways as well as having bronchoconstriction. Because there are two components you may need different medications to treat each component.

Asthma medications are delivered by inhaler devices that deliver the medication straight to the airways. They can also be prescribed as tablets.

It is important that you use your inhaler correctly to ensure that you are getting maximum benefit from your medication. Ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist to make sure that you are using your inhaler correctly at your next visit.

Medication Types

Most people with asthma take two kinds of medication. That’s because each asthma medication treats only one aspect of the condition:

  • Controllers: treat the persistent inflammation in the airways. Controllers should be taken every day. You will know that the controller medication is working because you will, over time, have fewer and fewer symptoms. When your asthma is totally controlled and you have no symptoms, do not stop taking them, if you do, the airway inflammation may return.
  • Relievers (Rescue Inhalers): are short-acting bronchodilators that provide fast but temporary relief from bronchospasm (tightening of the air ways). Relievers are only a short-term solution to your breathing problem as they treat the acute symptoms but do not treat the underlying airway inflammation. You should always carry your reliever with you at all times. Note how often you are relying on your rescue inhaler — if you need to take it more than three times per week, your asthma is not well controlled and you should speak with your doctor.

Controllers

Biologics

Relievers

Medication Myths

Devices

Action Plans

Breathe Easy: Medications

Download a copy of our Breathe Easy Booklet Series on asthma treatments and medications. It provides useful information about finding the different asthma treatment options that are available to you. [Click here to download in French]