Medications offer multiple ways to treat asthma
BY DR. KOMOROFF Universal Uclick
Monday, March 04, 2013
3/04/13 at 4:02 AM
Dear Doctor K: I have asthma. Can you explain how bronchodilators and steroids help me breathe easier?
Dear Reader: Asthma medicines fall into two general categories: controllers and relievers. Controllers are medicines taken regularly to reduce the likelihood of asthma attacks. Relievers are used just during asthma attacks.
Whether controllers or relievers, asthma medications act in one of two ways: (1) they prevent or stop inflammation of the airways; (2) they relax the muscles that line the airways.
Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways to improve airflow. The most common types of bronchodilators are the beta agonists. There are both long-acting types and short-acting types. The long-acting types are controllers: They are used to reduce the number of asthma attacks and are usually prescribed for daily use. The short-acting types are relievers, used to stop an asthma attack.
Bronchodilators can be inhaled in an inhaler or taken with a nebulizer, a device that mixes medications with a mist for inhalation.
Anti-inflammatory medications prevent asthma attacks from happening. They work by reducing inflammation, which decreases mucus production and reduces tightening of airway muscles.
Anyone with asthma symptoms that occur more than a couple times per week should consider taking an anti-inflammatory medication. The first choice is usually an inhaled corticosteroid.
Other medications: Drugs called methylxanthines work mainly on relaxing the muscles of the airways. Drugs called leukotriene inhibitors are newer types of anti-inflammatory drugs that are controllers. A drug called ipratropium sometimes is used in the emergency room during severe attacks to relax the airways. An anti-inflammatory drug called omalizumab is a controller that can effectively reduce the number of serious attacks in some people.
Write Dr. K at www.AskDoctorK.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106