Evidence Based Fact Checked

Asthma Medications Types: Relievers and Preventers

FTC disclaimer: This post may contains affiliate links and we will be compensated if you click on a link and make a purchase.

If you have asthma, you know how important it is to have the right medication. There are different types of asthma medications, each with a different purpose. Here’s a quick guide to the different types of asthma medications and what they’re used for.

Asthma relievers are the most common type of asthma medication. They’re used to relieve symptoms like shortness of breath and chest tightness. Asthma relievers are usually taken through an inhaler.

Asthma preventers are taken daily to help prevent asthma attacks. They’re usually long-acting inhalers that you use once or twice a day.

Some medications are used for both asthma prevention and relief. These are called combination inhalers.

If you have asthma, you must work with your doctor to determine which medication is right for you.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to asthma medication. What works for one person may not work for another. But with the right medication, you can manage your asthma and live a healthy, active life.

Classification of Asthma Medicines

Relievers and Preventers Asthma Medication

Asthma is a common chronic disease that affects people of all ages and can be both a nuisance and a serious health concern.

It is important to know the different types of medications available to manage asthma and to have a plan in place in case of an asthma attack. Two main types of medications are used to treat asthma: relievers and preventers.

Asthma medicines are broadly classified as

  • Relievers
  • Preventers

Relievers are taken on an as-needed basis to relieve asthma attacks symptoms quickly. They work by relaxing the muscles around the airways, making breathing easier.

Preventers are taken every day, even when you are feeling well, to help reduce the inflammation in the airways and prevent asthma attacks.

Some people with asthma only need a reliever medication, while others may need both a reliever and a preventer. Your doctor will work with you to determine your best medication plan based on your asthma severity, age, and other factors.

Asthma medications can be delivered in different ways, including inhalers, nebulizers, and pills. Your medication will depend on your preference and your doctor’s recommendation.

Inhalers are the most common type of asthma medication. They are portable and easy to use and work quickly to relieve symptoms.

Nebulizers are another option for delivering asthma medication. They convert the medication into a fine mist that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs.

Pills are a less common option for asthma medication, but they may be recommended for people with difficulty using inhalers or nebulizers.

Understanding Asthma Medicines – Relievers

When a patient suffers an asthma attack, there is constriction of the airways in the lungs. Relievers provide relief by relaxing the muscles surrounding the constricted airways.

This makes the airways open wider, making breathing easier for the asthma patient. They do not reduce the inflammation of the airways and cannot be used to prevent asthma.

Relievers are also known as bronchodilators. There are three main categories of bronchodilators:

  • Beta-2 agonists
  • Anticholinergics
  • Theophylline.

Beta-2 agonists

Beta-2 agonists act on the receptors of the bronchioles. They fit onto the receptors of the bronchiole muscles and stimulate them to relax.

Whenever an asthma attack strikes, short-acting bronchodilators have to be used. They are inhaled through various delivery devices, including the metered-dose-inhaler.

Examples of short-acting bronchodilators include salbutamol and terbutaline.

On the other hand, long-acting beta-2 agonists include salmeterol and formoterol. Their action lasts 12 hours and should be taken to keep the airways open for several hours.

Anticholinergic drugs

Anticholinergic drugs, when inhaled, open the airways to relieve the symptoms of shortness of breath. They take a slightly longer time to achieve effect but are longer lasting.

They are generally taken along with beta-2 agonists to produce faster and more long-lasting effects in an asthma patient.

Atrovent is an example of an anticholinergic drug that is used as a rescue inhaler.

Theophylline drugs

Theophylline drugs have both a bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory properties. They are used along with beta-2 agonists to provide quick relief during an asthma attack.

Asthma Medicines: How to use Relievers?

Relievers are necessary for treating asthma attacks. Asthma patients are always advised to keep a reliever inhaler with them.

If someone uses a reliever inhaler three or four times a week, it indicates that asthma is poorly controlled in the patient.

In this case, the asthma patient should consult a specialist doctor to review the medications and asthma action plan.

Over the past 10-15 years, studies have shown that overusing relievers decreases their effect in providing quick relief during an asthma attack.

Therefore, it has been concluded that long-term use of asthma involves regular use of preventive medicines and minimal use of reliever medicines.

Furthermore, it should be noted that long-acting relievers should never be used when an asthma attack strikes. Many deaths have been reported when long-acting relievers were used to treat an asthma attack.

Relievers are available as inhalers or in the nebulized (mist) form. Whenever an asthma attack strikes, short-acting relievers have to be used. They have a rapid onset action within minutes, and their effect last for around 3-4 hours.

Short-acting relievers are quite effective when administered directly into the lungs through a meter-dose inhaler (MDI). If MDI cannot be used, they are administered in syrup, nebulizer, or powder inhalers.

However, it has been reported that frequent relievers may worsen asthma conditions. Therefore, relievers are always used as rescuer medicines, not preventive ones.

Understanding Asthma Medicine – Preventer Inhalers (Controllers)

Preventer inhalers are used in the long-term management of asthma. Preventer inhalers reduce the swelling and inflammation of airways, thereby preventing another asthma attack.

They must be used daily, even when asthma symptoms do not develop. Preventer medicines do not provide any relief when you are feeling breathless.

Their main function is to reduce the inflammation of the airways that causes asthma.

Preventer inhalers are prescribed to asthma patients who need to use reliever inhalers 3-4 times in one week. Patients who suffer severe attacks of breathlessness in a smoky environment need to use preventer inhalers.

The preventer medications need at least 14 days to reduce inflammation and clear the mucus blocking the airways in the lungs.

Different Types of Preventer Medications

Controller medications are taken every day to prevent asthma attacks. They include:

Leukotriene modifiers (LTM) are a newer type of asthma medication. LTMs work by blocking the action of leukotrienes, substances that can cause inflammation in the airways. LTMs are taken in pill form.

Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS) are another type of preventer medication. ICSs work by reducing inflammation in the airways. They are usually taken through an inhaler but can also be taken in pill form.

Long-acting beta agonists (LABAs) work by keeping the airways open for a longer period of time. They are usually taken in combination with a corticosteroid, which is a type of anti-inflammatory medication.

Preventer Medicines Dosage

These medications contain steroids in low doses. Regular use of preventer medicines reduces inflammation of airways in the lungs, and reliever inhalers are also reduced as there is a lesser frequency of asthma attacks in patients.

Initially, asthma patients are put on a high dose of preventer medicines for some days. Then, their dosage is reduced when the asthma symptoms are under control.

One needs to take preventative medicine every day. However, if one misses a dose or forgets to take preventer medicine for 1-2 days after using it regularly for several weeks, asthma control has no drastic effect.

Nevertheless, if you discontinue using preventer medicines for several days to 1 week, you become susceptible to chest infections and asthma attacks.

Steroid-Preventer Inhalers

The steroid-preventer inhalers include:

  • Beclometasone
  • Budesonide
  • Ciclesonide
  • Fluticasone
  • Mometasone.

Steroid inhalers are usually taken twice daily. They need to be taken more frequently in case of an asthma flare-up. The patient may also need to take oral medications and preventer inhalers to reduce inflammation for a few days.

Preventer inhalers contain two active ingredients: corticosteroids such as fluticasone propionate or budesonide and long-acting beta-2 agonist such as salmeterol.

Corticosteroids that are inhaled reduce inflammation of the airways in the lungs. On the other hand, long-acting beta-2 agonist causes bronchodilator.

Side-Effects of Steroid Preventer Medicines

There are several side effects associated with preventer medicines as they are steroidal.

Common side effects include hoarseness of voice, candidiasis of mouth and throat, muscle cramps, palpitations, sleep disturbance, and increased risk of glaucoma with prolonged use.

It can also lead to adrenal suppression and cataract in some cases.

Preventer Medicines (Non-Steroidal)

There are preventer medicines that are non-steroidal in nature. Sodium cromoglycate, commonly known as Intal, is a non-steroid preventer. It is less effective than inhaled steroid preventers in controlling asthma because it takes around 4-6 weeks to show any significant effect.

A new group of non-steroid preventers called leukotriene antagonists had been introduced recently.

They are not as effective as steroid preventers in controlling asthma but can be used in conjunction with steroidal preventers to control asthma in patients.

It should be noted that preventer inhalers significantly reduce the probability of asthma attacks in patients even when they encounter an asthma trigger.

Preventer inhalers are generally brown or orange in color. It takes up to 6 weeks to get the maximum benefit from the preventer inhalers.

The Bottom Line

Asthma is a common condition that affects the lungs. It is a chronic condition that can last long and often be controlled but not cured.

Different types of asthma medication can be classified into two main groups: relievers and preventers. Relievers are taken to relieve the symptoms of an asthma attack. Preventers are taken to reduce the airways’ inflammation, which helps prevent asthma attacks from happening in the first place.

Most people with asthma will need to take both types of medication, and some will need to take additional medication for their asthma.

Asthma medication can also be given in different ways, depending on the person’s needs. For example, some people may only need to use their inhaler when they have an asthma attack, while others may need to use it regularly to prevent attacks.

It is important to follow the advice of a healthcare professional when it comes to taking asthma medication. This is because asthma medication can have side effects; some people may be more sensitive to them than others.

If you are taking asthma medication, it is important to:

  • Keep a record of your asthma attacks, including when they happen, how long they last, and what symptoms you have. This will help your healthcare professional to identify any patterns and triggers.
  • Use your asthma medication as prescribed by your healthcare professional.
  • Monitor your asthma closely, and seek medical help if your asthma symptoms get worse.
  • Tell your healthcare professional if you experience any side effects from your asthma medication.

If you have asthma, it is important to work with your healthcare team to make sure you are taking the right medication for yourself.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Get our Well Researched Health Guide Direct to Your Inbox

Invalid email address
We promise not to spam you. You can unsubscribe at any time. Read our simple Privacy Policy.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational purposes only, always check with your medical doctor before stopping any prescription medications or when implementing any dietary and lifestyle changes.

Healthlyious has strict sourcing guidelines, believes in trustworthy and reliable sources, and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, medical journal publications, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

  • Medication for people with asthma: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279519/
  • Asthma: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/asthma/treatment/


We include products or services we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our Affiliate Disclosure