How is asthma treated?

Asthma can be controlled, but not cured. It is not normal to have frequent symptoms, trouble sleeping, or trouble completing tasks. Appropriate asthma care will prevent symptoms and visits to the emergency room and hospital. Asthma medicines are one of the mainstays of asthma treatment. The drugs used to treat asthma are explained below.

Anti-inflammatories: These are the most important drugs for most people with asthma. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. As a result, airways are less sensitive and less likely to react to triggers. These medications need to be taken daily and may need to be taken for several weeks before they begin to control asthma. Anti-inflammatory medicines lead to fewer symptoms, better airflow, less sensitive airways, less airway damage, and fewer asthma attacks. If taken every day, they CONTROL or prevent asthma symptoms.

Bronchodilators: These drugs relax the muscle bands that tighten around the airways. This action opens the airways, letting more air in and out of the lungs and improving breathing. Bronchodilators also help clear mucus from the lungs. As the airways open, the mucus moves more freely and can be coughed out more easily. In short-acting forms, bronchodilators RELIEVE or stop asthma symptoms by quickly opening the airways and are very helpful during an asthma episode. In long-acting forms, bronchodilators provide CONTROL of asthma symptoms and prevent asthma episodes.

Asthma drugs can be taken in a variety of ways. Inhaling the medications - by using a metered dose inhaler, dry powder inhaler, or nebulizer - is one way of taking asthma medicines. Oral medicines (pills or liquids you swallow) may also be prescribed.

Asthma severity

Asthma is classified as either "intermittent" (comes and goes) or "persistent" (lasting). Persistent asthma is further described as being mild, moderate, or severe. The severity of asthma is based on how often you have symptoms both during the day and night, as well as by the results of lung function tests and by how well you can perform activities. The "severity" of asthma refers to how "intense" or "strong" your asthma is.

Asthma control

Asthma control is the goal of asthma treatment. Regardless of your asthma severity, it may or may not be controlled. Asthma control means:

  • You are able to do everything you want to do at work and home
  • You have no (or minimal) asthma symptoms
  • You do not wake up from your sleep or earlier than usual in the morning due to asthma
  • You rarely need to use your reliever medicine (inhaler)

Another major part of your treatment is that you are happy with your asthma care and believe your asthma is controlled.

Monitoring symptoms

A key part of treatment is keeping track of how well your lungs are working. Monitoring your symptoms - what they are, how and when they happen, and how severe they are - is an important part of being able to control your asthma.

Sometimes asthma is monitored using a peak flow meter. A peak flow (PF) meter measures how fast the air comes out of your lungs. It can help you know when your asthma is getting worse, sometimes even before you have symptoms. By taking daily peak flow readings, you can learn when to adjust medications to keep asthma under good control. It is also used to create your asthma action plan (see below). Your doctor can use your peak flow readings to adjust your treatment plan in some cases.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/08/2017.

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