ASTHMA DISEASE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
Asthma Educational Mailing 3
What medicines are used to treat asthma?
Asthma medicines can generally be divided into two groups:
• Medicines to prevent attacks, (controller medicines) • Medicines to treat attacks (sometimes called rescue medicines)
Your doctor will talk to you about these medicines and what to do if you have an asthma attack.
How do controller medicines work?
Most people who have asthma need to take long-term control medicines daily to help prevent symptoms.
Most controller medications work in one of two ways.
• Reduce the swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes, making the airways less sensitive to
• Relax the bronchial muscles throughout the day, helping to prevent muscle spasms that narrow
• Inhaled corticosteroids (some brand names: Azmacort, AeroBid, Flovent, etc.), cromolyn (one
brand name: Intal) and nedocromil (brand name: Tilade).
• Newer medicines, called anti-leukotrienes, are also used to prevent asthma attacks. These include
montelukast (brand name: Singulair), zafirlukast (brand name: Accolate) and zileuton (brand name: Zyflo).
Controller medicines must be taken on a regular basis--whether or not you're having symptoms. They take hours or days to start to help and don't work well unless you take them regularly. Controller or preventative medications help you feel better over time. In most cases, within two weeks or less you will have fewer asthma symptoms and find yourself less sensitive to asthma triggers. Remember, though, that while your asthma is controlled, it is not cured. Keep taking your preventive medications as prescribed even if you feel better. Asthma attacks will be much less common than before, but if one occurs, it could be severe. So you should continue to avoid triggers, keep your quick-relief inhaler handy, and call your doctor if symptoms return.
How do rescue medicines work?
Rescue medicines provide quick relief during an asthma attack by helping the muscles around your
airways relax, which allows your airways to open.
Inhaled bronchodilators are rescue medicines (some brand names: Brethine, Proventil, Tornalate, etc.).
They can be used on a regular basis or only when they are needed to quickly reduce symptoms. Warning signs of an asthma attack
Peak flow less than 50% of your personal best
Information found at the American Academy of Family Physicians
How To Use a Peak Flow Meter
This small, hand-held device shows how well air moves out of your lungs. You blow into the device and it gives you a score, or peak flow number. Your score shows how well your lungs are working at the time of the test. Your doctor will tell you how and when to use your peak flow meter. He or she also will teach you how to take your medicines based on your score. Your doctor and other clinicians on your health care team may ask you to use your peak flow meter each morning and keep a record of your results. It may be particularly useful to record peak flow scores for a couple of weeks before each medical visit and take the results with you.
When first diagnosed with asthma, it's important to find out your "personal best" peak flow
number. To do this, you record your score each day for a 2- to 3-week period when your asthma
is under good control. The highest number you get during that time is your personal best. You
can compare this number to future numbers to make sure your asthma is under control.
Your peak flow meter can help warn you of an asthma attack, even before you notice symptoms.
If your score falls to a number that shows that your breathing is getting worse, you should take
your quick-relief medicines the way your asthma action plan directs. Then you can use the peak
flow meter to check how well the medicine worked. Information found at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
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