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The Asthma Section

Understanding Asthma Medications


Controllers prevent asthma symptoms as they treat the inflammation inside the lungs. Controller medications need to be taken every day even if you do not have asthma symptoms. Having your asthma under control means that the medication is doing its job, and shortly after a controller is stopped, symptoms tend to return.

Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) block the immune cells in the lungs from creating unnecessary mucus and inflammation when exposed to asthma triggers. These medications do not work right away; it can sometimes take 1 to 2 weeks before their effect is felt, and that is why they cannot be used during a sudden asthma attack.

If your symptoms worsen, your Asthma Action Plan can guide you through adjusting your controller medication to keep inflammation in check.

Side effects of inhaled corticosteroids can include voice hoarseness, sore throat and a throat yeast infection called thrush. These side effects can be prevented or minimized by using the correct inhaler technique and, if you’re using a meter-dose inhaler, to use a spacer.

Spacers help deposit the medication in the lungs instead of in the throat and mouth. Rinsing out your mouth with water after using your inhaled corticosteroids will also help reduce these side effects.

Examples of inhaled corticosteroids:

Flovent (Fluticasone)
Pulmicort (Budesonide)
QVAR (Beclamethasone dipropionate)
Alvesco (Ciclesonide)

Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRAs)

Leukotrienes are immune messengers that are involved in inflammations. The LTRAs are oral medications that block the action of leukotrienes in the airway and are used to prevent inflammation from occurring in the lungs and causing asthma symptoms. LTRAs are not steroids, and can be used alone or with inhaled corticosteroids to control asthma. They are sometimes called “steroid sparing” because your doctor might add a LTRA instead of increasing the dose of your inhaled corticosteroid.

LTRAs include:

Singulair (Montelukast)
Accolate (Zafirlukast )

LTRAs are generally well tolerated, but side effects can include headache or nausea.

Next Page: Oral Corticosteroids

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