Asthma never really goes away — it just seems as though it does. If you have the condition, your airways are often inflamed and may become swollen and clogged with mucus. Despite all that, you probably breathe easily and feel great most of the time. The trick is to keep things that way.
Asthma can’t be cured, but it can be controlled. By managing your disease with medications and avoiding the triggers that bring on attacks, you can keep your airways open. Best of all, you can keep feeling great.
What medications can help prevent asthma attacks?
Most people with asthma need daily medications to keep the condition in check. One very effective weapon is a corticosteroid such as beclomethasone, budesonide and others. This type of medication, which is taken through an inhaler, can ease inflammation in your bronchial tubes. As a result, your airways become less sensitive to their surroundings and are less likely to go into spasms. These drugs are generally very safe, although doses above 1 milligram a day can cause side effects to the adrenal glands, skin, bones, eyes, and blood sugar. (Check with your doctor if you notice any unusual reactions.)
Other types of corticosteroids, including prednisone and prednisolone, are available in tablets or syrups. These drugs are highly effective and may be easier for some people to take. However, when used for a long time, they can cause thinning of the bones, obesity, diabetes, and other serious side effects.
Leukotriene modifiers, such as montelukast and zileuton, are another option for long-term control of asthma. They reduce inflammation and decrease mucus production.
Cromoglycate and nedocromil are relatively mild drugs that can reduce inflammation with few or no side effects. However, they aren’t as powerful as the corticosteroids and are not a good choice for people with severe asthma.
Drugs known as bronchodilators can prevent attacks by widening the airways. Long-acting drugs such as salmeterol and formoterol, taken through an inhaler, can keep you breathing freely for at least 12 hours and usually have few side effects.
However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that these drugs carry its strongest caution, a black-box warning, because studies have shown an increased risk of asthma-related deaths, especially among Black Americans, while taking salmeterol. If you do use them, the latest government guidelines stress that they should not be prescribed as the first-choice medicine to treat asthma, and they should only be added to your treatment plan if other medications do not control your symptoms.
So-called quick relief bronchodilators such as albuterol and pirbuterol can open your airways within minutes and prevent attacks for about two hours with few side effects. You can inhale these medications whenever you feel an attack coming on, or, better yet, monitor yourself with a peak-flow meter and inhale them whenever it shows you need help. You can also use them as a hedge against