The main types of asthma medications are preventers and relievers. There is also a type of preventer that also contains a reliever. They come in different kinds of devices to be inhaled and there is also a preventer, montelukast, that comes in a tablet. Prednisone tablets are only used for severe asthma flare ups in addition to the inhaled medications.
Preventers – red, orange or brown devices
It is important for anyone who is prescribed a preventer medication by their Doctor to use it! So many people do not use their preventer correctly or at all and this can lead to asthma attacks and poorer lung health.
Preventers are available on prescription only.
Most adults with asthma use an “inhaled corticosteroid” preventer. This needs to be used every day once or twice daily depending on what has been prescribed. This type of medicine reduces the swelling and “twitchiness” of the airways so that they are not so sensitive. They also reduce excess mucous and can help airway cells repair themselves and return to normal. The airways in our lungs can be thought of as trees with thick branches changing to smaller branches down to twigs at the end. It is important that as much of our airways as possible is used.
Preventers can take a few days to a week to “kick in” so don’t stop if you don’t notice a difference straight away.
The asthma guidelines suggest that a preventer is prescribed if
- You have had asthma symptoms more than once in the last month
- You have woken at night because of symptoms in the last month
- You have had a flare up in the last year
Guidelines for children are slightly different depending on their age.
Preventers should be used every day even if there are no symptoms and they should also be continued during flare ups and colds. Keep using it until the Doctor says it is ok to stop or reduce the dose to see what happens.
Examples; Flixotide, Alvesco, Pulmicort, QVAR,
Additional preventative treatment
- Spiriva has previously been used in COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) only but is now able to be used in asthmatics who need an extra preventer added in.
Relievers – blue devices
Anyone who has asthma should have a reliever on hand in case they get asthma symptoms. Relievers can be obtained over the counter at a pharmacy by speaking with a Pharmacist or on a Doctor’s prescription.
Relievers work quickly to relax the muscle around the airway so that the airway can open up. They start to work in a few minutes.
If you need to use your reliever more than twice per week this is a sign that you should see your Doctor for an asthma assessment as it is likely that you will need to use a preventer. This does not include using it before exercise.
A lot of people rely on their reliever as they notice that it works straight away and therefore do not use a preventer or do not use it often enough. This can cause damage to the lungs and worsening of asthma over time.
Examples; Ventolin, Bricanyl
Combination medications – purple devices
These contain an “inhaled corticosteroid” as well as a long acting reliever. These have the benefits of the preventer as well as the ability to open up the airways.
Examples; Seretide, Breo, Flutiform, Symbicort
If you’re an asthmatic and you use your reliever more than twice per week and you aren’t using a preventer see your Doctor for assessment.
If you have been prescribed a preventer use it every day regardless of how you feel.