Treatment of Asthma - Part I

by Warren P. Silberstein, M.D.
06/16/97

The main categories of medications used to treat asthma are anti-inflammatory drugs, since asthma is an inflammatory disease of the airways, and bronchodilators which help to relieve the constriction of the airways which cause the acute symptoms of asthma. In the management of asthma these medications are divided into maintenance drugs - those medicines which are taken chronically to control and prevent asthma symptoms, and rescue drugs - those medications which are used to relieve acute symptoms.

Rescue Medications

All of the rescue medications are rapidly acting bronchodilators, drugs which reduce the constriction of the smooth muscles of the bronchial tree quickly thereby opening the airways and providing almost immediate symptomatic relief of wheezing. The main differences between them are the degree of cardiac (heart) stimulation, duration of action, and the mode of administration. This list reviews the major medications in use today in the U.S.A. but is by no means a complete listing of all rescue medications. The main rescue medications in other countries may differ, but the principles are the same. For mild asthmatics who have only occasional symptoms treatment with rescue medications may be sufficient, but since these medications do not reduce the inflammation that causes the airway constriction or the increased mucus production, asthmatics who have more frequent, persistent, or severe symptoms require maintenance medications as well.

Next article in series: Maintenance Medicines

For more information about asthma medications check the following Web sites:

Asthma Medications for Kids - brought to you by the American Lung Association

Asthma Tutorial - Bronchodilators

With summer coming you might also want to check the information from the American Lung Association about Asthma Camps and Summer Camp Tips For Children With Asthma.


Articles by Dr. Warren
Ask Dr. Warren
Read Ask Dr. Warren Column