SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Asthma is a chronic condition and requires ongoing treatment to stay in control like all other chronic conditions.
- The main types of medication for asthma treatment are relievers and preventers.
- Asthma can be well-controlled with the appropriate medication in almost all people.
- If you are worried about side effects from medication, do not stop or reduce the dose without speaking with your doctor.
- Stopping medication could lead to an asthma attack or asthma emergency that is worse than any potential side effect.
- During an asthma attack, follow your asthma action plan.
- In an asthma emergency, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
The mainstay of is preventer medication treatment which aims to prevent symptoms, prevent asthma attacks, maintain good lung function and improve quality of life. Reliever treatment is used when you experience breakthrough symptoms.
Your doctor will develop an asthma action plan for you or your child. Do not alter the use of asthma medication (for you or a child in your care) without speaking to your doctor or unless the asthma action plan tells you what to do in a specific situation.
Types of asthma medication
Asthma can be well controlled with the appropriate medication in almost all people. The main types of medication are:
- Preventers – that slowly make the airways less sensitive to triggers by reducing swelling and mucus inside the airways. This medication is taken daily.
- Relievers – that act quickly to relax the tight muscles around the airways and are used when symptoms breakthrough, despite good asthma management. This medication is used during an asthma attack. Relievers can also be used to prevent when prescribed by a doctor.
- Combination preventers – that contain 2 different medications and act to reduce inflammation as well as relax the airway muscles.
- Dual purpose relievers – that are used to treat breakthrough symptoms and work by relaxing airway muscles and providing anti-inflammatory action at the same time.
Some people with asthma require additional medication to maintain good health, including ‘add-on’ medications and injectable medications for people with asthma which is difficult to control. Asthma Australia’s website provides more detailed information about the different types of .
Reliever – asthma medication
If you have asthma, you need to carry reliever medication at all times.
Relievers contain a ‘brochodilator’, which simply means that it opens the airways by relaxing tight airway muscles. They are only used when you have asthma symptoms or if your doctor recommends using it before exercise. You should avoid overusing reliever medication and if you notice you need it more than 2 days a week, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your asthma control.
Preventer – asthma medication
Preventer medication is usually taken once or twice daily. The most effective preventers are inhaled corticosteroids. There is a preventer which is also available in tablet form.
Most adults and children can achieve good control of asthma symptoms with a low dose preventer. It is important that preventers are taken every day as prescribed, even if you feel well. Preventer medication is the key to keeping well with asthma.
Preventers reduce swelling and mucus in the airways and reduce your risk of severe asthma symptoms or flare-ups.
Depending on the , some people may only need preventer medication during a particular season, for example, in spring if you are . Others may need preventers all year round. Best medical practice is to give only the smallest doses of medication to keep symptoms under control, but you should never reduce the dose of medication without speaking about it with your doctor.
Combination preventer – asthma medication
If inhaled corticosteroid alone has not controlled your asthma, your doctor may prescribe a combination preventer. Or occasionally combination preventers may be prescribed when asthma is diagnosed.
Combination preventer medication is taken in one device and includes an inhaled corticosteroid to reduce inflammation and sensitivity, and a medication to relax the airways (a ‘bronchodilator’, which in this case is called a ‘long-acting beta-agonist' – LABA).
Dual purpose reliever – asthma medication
Dual purpose reliever refers to a combination medication used as a reliever, to treat symptoms as needed, when they occur. This medication is prescribed for people with mild asthma, where symptoms are infrequent and not severe. ‘Dual purpose’ refers to the rapid relief of symptoms via the action of the ‘bronchodilator’ (to relax the airways) and the inhaled corticosteroid (to reduce inflammation). The use of this combination product as needed to relieve symptoms has been found to reduce the risk of life-threatening flare-ups.
Side effects of asthma medications
All medication has the potential to cause side effects. If you experience side effects from your asthma medication, it is important to discuss these with your doctor and pharmacist.
The most common side effects of inhaled preventer medication (inhaled corticosteroids) are a hoarse voice, sore mouth and throat, and fungal infections of the throat. You can reduce the risk of these side effects by rinsing and gargling the mouth with water, and spitting it out, after using the preventer.
The most common side effects of reliever medications include tremor, rapid heartbeat and headache. These usually go away quickly.
The only preventer treatment available by tablet, called Montelukast, is known to cause serious mood and behavioural side effects in a very small number of children who take this medicine. If your child is prescribed this medicine, inform your doctor immediately if you notice a change in their behaviour or mood.
If you are worried about any side effects of asthma medication, do not stop your dose of medication or those of a child in your care without speaking about it with your doctor. Stopping medication could lead to an asthma attack or asthma emergency that is worse than any potential side effects.
During an asthma attack, follow your asthma action plan. In an asthma emergency, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Tell the operator that someone is having an .
While waiting for the ambulance, give 4 separate puffs of reliever medication, taking 4 breaths for each puff, every 4 minutes.
has advice about asthma first aid for adults and children.
Where to get help
- In an emergency, always call triple zero (000)
- Emergency department of your nearest hospital
- Tel. – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
- – for after-hours home doctor visits (bulk billed) Tel. 13 SICK ()
- Tel. 1800 ASTHMA ()
- has produced a number of videos to help you better understand and manage your child's asthma.