Prescription Medications For Asthma. The majority of prescribed medications for asthma involve delivering therapeutic agents that help to alleviate the symptoms of asthma directly into the lungs.
This is done using one of two forms: aerosol or powder.
The advantages of using this route include:
- The drug doesn’t have to go to the liver first, which is where many drugs are broken down and rendered useless.
- The drug also doesn’t travel through the blood stream, meaning that side effects felt in other areas of the body are kept to a minimum.
There are two main types of prescribed medication used to treat asthma. The first are Quick Relief medications and the second are Long-Term Control medications.
Quick Relief Medications
Most asthmatics will have a Salbutamol inhaler or something similar which they take whenever they feel the need, like when they feel the first symptoms of an asthma attack. These types of inhalers contain powerful bronchodilators which quickly reduce the amount of inflammation and constriction in the airways that lead to the lungs. For this reason quick relief medications are primarily used in situations where an asthmatic person needs to rapidly gain control of their condition in order to prevent a severe attack or to stop further attacks from occurring.
There are two main types of quick relief drugs:
- Beta-agonists which cause the smooth muscle within the bronchioles to relax.
- Systemic corticosteroids which are delivered initially as in injection to give instant relief, and then in tablet form for the next few days while the lungs recover from the attack.
In most cases beta-agonist inhalers are strong enough to keep asthma attacks at bay, providing you use them as early as possible. Occasionally, these inhalers aren’t strong enough to stop an attack, in which case a nebulizer can be used that releases the same kind of fast acting drug, but in much higher concentrations. People with severe asthma often have a portable nebulizer in the home, but others may need to go to the hospital in order to be treated.
Severe attacks will often not respond to even the strongest beta-agonist drugs. In this case, an injection of a systemic corticosteroid such as Prednisolone or Cortisone can be used. This will give instant relief as the drugs used are very powerful anti-inflammatories and work to open up the airways within minutes. Hopefully, as an asthmatic you will ever need to use this class of drug.
There are a number of long acting medications that can be prescribed, however two are more common than most:
- Long-acting Beta agonists, and
- Inhaled corticosteroids
Long acting beta agonists are normally prescribed as an inhaler which needs to be used every 12 hours in order to get the full benefit – once in the morning and again in the evening. These drugs, which include salmeterol, act to prevent asthma symptoms rather than relieving them once they start. Occasionally this class of drug is prescribed in tablet form, however these have side effects and are not as long lasting as when taken with an inhaler; thus they are only prescribed when absolutely necessary.
It is common practice to prescribe long-acting beta agonists in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid. These help to strengthen the lungs and the airways and are prescribed to all patients who have regular persistent symptoms. Unfortunately, in addition to their primary effects they also have a number of side effects. Because of this, the dosage of inhaled corticosteroids is reduced to a minimum as soon as possible after the persons asthma is under control.
It is vitally important that these long-term-control medications are taken properly and using a set schedule. Without them, an asthmatic is much more open to attacks by allergens and irritants. Other types of treatment, such as herbal remedies and alternative natural therapies, can often be used in conjunction with prescribed medicines.
Before the current prescription medications for asthma were developed, the condition was largely treated with Epinephrine and Ephedrine, and these can still be bought over-the-counter in many large pharmacies.
Both epinephrine and ephedrine work in much the same way as the current prescription medications in that they act to relax the layer of smooth muscle in the walls of the bronchioles. However, these drugs aren’t nearly as potent as prescription drugs and are only suitable for mild asthma that only exhibits symptoms once a week or less. If symptoms are experienced more frequently, or the regular dose of epinephrine or ephedrine has little or no effect, then it is strongly suggested that the sufferer seeks proper medical attention.
Epinephrine is available over the counter in a variety of concentrations that can be taken either with an inhaler or as a solution with saline through a nebulizer. It is highly important however that you read the ingredients before you use this type of medication, as they often contain preservatives to which some asthmatics are allergic. This means that you could potentially trigger a serious asthma attack while trying to treat mild symptoms. If the treatment is successful an asthmatic person will begin to feel relief within five minutes, however the human body is known to build tolerance to epinephrine, meaning that over time and with repeated inhalations the effect that epinephrine has on your symptoms will become progressively less.
Ephedrine is taken as either a capsule or tablet, so it is slower acting than epinephrine. It can take anywhere between 20-60 minutes to feel relief. It is known to cause irritation when first used, so it may not be suitable for asthmatics with symptoms that could be described as moderate (worse than mild but not severe). As with epinephrine, the body builds a tolerance to ephedrine over time, so at some point these over-the-counter medications are no longer going to work and medical advice will be needed.
Because ephedrine is actually absorbed into the body there is a much greater chance of adverse reactions than if epinephrine or prescription drugs were used to treat asthma. Potential side effects of ephedrine include insomnia, nervousness and anxiety, rapid heart beat, tremors and nausea. Similarly, both epinephrine and ephedrine may interact with some types of drugs that are being taken for other medical conditions, so anybody thinking of using these over-the-counter medications should consult their doctor before doing so, especially if they are being treated for any of the following conditions:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Diseases of the prostate, or
- Diseases of the thyroid