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What Does Asthma Medicine Do?

Asthma is a chronic condition that, in most cases, requires a treatment plan and medication. Find out here how asthma medicine works and why it’s important to take it!

February 17, 2017 | HF Healthy Living Team

Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs. It is a chronic, or long-term, condition, which means that it is lifelong and doesn’t go away on its own. Asthma affects people of all ages, but symptoms usually begin in childhood.

In a person with asthma, the tubes that carry air into and out of the lungs (airways) are inflamed and swollen. Swelling causes the airways to narrow, allowing less air through and making it hard to breathe.

Asthma Affect on Lungs
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Airways are also sensitive and can have strong reactions when triggers such as dust, mold, and pollen are inhaled. These reactions cause muscles around airways to tighten, making them even smaller, and can cause further swelling and produce mucus that blocks the passage of air. Go here to see what happens during an asthma attack.

Medicine is an important part of an asthma treatment plan. Two types of medicine are prescribed to treat asthma: quick-relief and long-term control.

Quick-Relief Medicines

Quick-relief asthma medicines are taken during asthma attacks or flare-ups. They act quickly when symptoms occur to relax muscles surrounding airways so that airways can open and make it easier to breathe.

Asthma Medicines affect on Lungs
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Quick-relief medicines are usually taken through an inhaler so that they can reach the airways fast. Since quick-relief medicines counteract symptoms of asthma only when they occur and do not reduce inflammation, long-term control medicines are also needed.

Long-term Control Medicines

Long-term control medicines work over time to reduce airway inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms from occurring in the first place. These medicines should not be taken during asthma attacks or flare-ups, because they do not offer quick relief from symptoms.

Normal Lungs versus Asthma Lungs
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Long-term control medicines can be inhaled, injected, or taken in pill or liquid form. Most people with asthma need to take long-term control medicine every day, even if they feel fine and show no asthma symptoms. Quick-relief medicines should never be taken in place of long-term control medicines, because they do not work the same way.

Quick-relief and long-term control medicines are both important parts of most asthma treatment plans. Talk to your doctor about what asthma medicines are right for you.

Tips for Using Asthma Medicine

Medicine does not cure asthma, but when taken regularly and as directed, medicine can improve and sometimes prevent asthma symptoms and attacks. Always:

  • Take prescription medicine exactly as prescribed and directed, even if you feel fine
  • Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns about your asthma medicine
  • Have an Asthma Action Plan for when asthma symptoms occur

Do you sometimes forget to take your medicine? Get four tips to help you remember here. Do you or your child have chronic asthma? Find four ways to manage it here.


© 2017 HF Management Services, LLC.

Healthfirst is the brand name used for products and services provided by one or more of the Healthfirst group of affiliated companies.

This health information or program is for educational purposes only and not intended to treat, diagnose, or act as a substitute for medical advice from your provider. Consult your healthcare provider and always follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.

“How Do Asthma Medicines Work?” January 2014.

“How Is Asthma Treated and Controlled?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. August 4, 2014.

“Understanding Your Medication,” American Lung Association. Accessed January 24, 2017.

“What Is Asthma?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. August 4, 2014.

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