Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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What is asthma?

Asthma is a long-term disease. If you have asthma, there are times when your airways, or the air passages of your lungs, become inflamed (see picture). When this happens, your airways get red and swollen. They become narrow, making it harder for you to breathe. You may also wheeze or cough. Even when you feel good, your airways can be inflamed. Certain things, such as smoke or dust, can start or “trigger” your asthma.

Most people with asthma take two kinds of medicines. One kind is called controller medicine. These medicines help control the inflammation so you feel and breathe better.

They stop your airways from reacting to what triggers your asthma. Controller medicines work only if you take them every day, as your doctor tells you.

Another kind of asthma medicine is quick-relief medicine (also called bronchodilators). These medicines dilate the airways (make them bigger) and make it easier for you to breathe. These inhaled medicines should only be used for quick relief when you are coughing or wheezing, or when your chest feels tight.

How can I control my asthma?

You can follow this easy two-step program.

Step 1: AVOID, or try to control exposure to, anything that you know triggers your asthma or makes it worse. These triggers may include:

  • Air pollution, tobacco smoke, perfume or other irritants

  • Allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust and mold

  • Infections (avoid people with colds and get a flu shot every year)

Step 2: Take your controller medicines every day.

  • Most of the controller medicines need to be taken once or twice daily.

  • If you have symptoms of asthma more than twice a week or if you wake up during the night with symptoms of asthma more than twice a month, your asthma is not under control. Ask your family doctor to help you get your asthma under control. Then, do your part and take your medicines regularly.

Controller and Quick-Relief Medicines

These are the medicines most commonly used by people with asthma:

Controller Medicines:

  • Aerobid, Azmacort, Beclovent, Flovent, Pulmicort Vanceril (these are inhaled corticosteroids)

  • Intal (inhaled cromolyn)

  • Tilade (nedocromil sodium)

  • Accolate, Singulair, Zyflo (leukotriene receptor antagonist or synthesis inhibitor tablets)

  • Slo-Bid, Theo-Dur, Theo-24, Uni-Dur (long-acting the ophylline tablets)

  • Serevent (inhaled long-acting beta2 agonist)

  • [ corrected] Prednisone, prednisolone (oral steroids)

Quick-Relief Medicines

  • Albuterol, Pirbuterol, Levalbuterol or Bitolterol (inhaled short-acting beta2 agonist)

  • Atrovent (anticholinergic)

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