Asthma makes breathing difficult. It is a disease that causes inflamed, narrowed, and blocked airways. It also can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest pain. An estimated 26 million Americans have one of two types of asthma: allergic asthma and non-allergic asthma. Asthma does not have a cure, but treatments can help manage symptoms, prevent flares, and make living a healthy, active life possible.

What Is the Goal of Asthma Treatment?

Asthma treatment aims to manage the disease’s symptoms. Medications can help prevent a flare. They can also reduce the severity of a flare if one occurs. Asthma treatments are safe and effective if taken as prescribed. If you experience any side effects when taking asthma medication, it’s important that you let your doctor know.

The Two Types of Asthma Treatment

Asthma medications can be divided into two groups: quick-relief and long-term control.

Quick-Relief Medicines

Quick-relief medicines are designed to provide immediate symptom relief during an asthma flare.

Some of the most common quick-relief medicines are discussed below.

Short-Acting Bronchodilators

These inhaled medicines open inflamed and tightened airways by relaxing the smooth muscles that surrounds the airways..

Short-Acting Beta Agonists

These inhaled medicines are often the first choice quick-relief medicine doctors prescribe. They relax the smooth muscle surrounding the airways. 

Oral Beta Agonists

This medicine comes in multiple forms: syrup, tablets, and long-acting tablets. The syrup is often prescribed to children. The long-acting tablets are best taken before bedtime for nighttime relief.

Oral Corticosteroids

These medications alleviate airway inflammation and ease breathing. These medicines have a lot of side effects, so doctors often limit them to a short-term treatment for severe asthma episodes.

Long-Term Maintenance Medicines

Long-term control medicines are taken daily. These medications are designed to reduce inflammation in the airways and lungs. Over time, these medicines can reduce the frequency and severity of asthma flare-ups. You may not need a quick-relief treatment very often if these long-term medicines work well.

The types of long-term maintenance medicines are discussed below. 

Inhaled Corticosteroids

These inhaled medications prevent and ease airway swelling, restriction, and inflammation. They are the most commonly prescribed asthma medication.

Oral Corticosteroids

These liquids, pills, and tablets are sometimes used as a long-term therapy for people with severe asthma.

Cromolyn Sodium and Nedocromil Sodium

These inhaled medicines prevent airway swelling and inflammation when your body comes into contact with an asthma trigger. You will use a nebulizer, a device that turns the medicine into a fine mist, to take this medicine. 

Leukotriene Modifiers

These tablets prevent airway swelling and inflammation. They also decrease the amount of mucus in the lungs. 

Long-Acting Bronchodilators

These inhaled medicines help open the airways and ease inflammation. Four types of long-term bronchodilators are most commonly prescribed. This type of medicine includes the following:

  • Long-acting beta agonists are inhaled medicines that can help relieve everyday symptoms of asthma. If you take this medicine, you also need a quick-relief medication in case of an asthma flare.
  • A combined therapy treatment uses long-acting bronchodilator inhaler medications and corticosteroids to control and relieve asthma symptoms. 


This oral, slow-acting medicine is prescribed to people with chronically symptomatic asthma. It’s especially useful for preventing nighttime asthma flares. However, theophylline comes with a warning: the medicine needs to remain in your bloodstream to work, but too much of it can be dangerous. 

Anti-IgE Therapy

These once-a-month injections reduce the production of immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that triggers allergy-induced inflammation in the lungs. Even with these injections, your doctor will likely prescribe other asthma medications. However, the anti-IgE medications may help reduce your need for those medicines over time.

Bronchial Thermoplasty (BT)

During this procedure, a pulmonologist will use thermal energy to reduce some of the smooth muscle lining in your lungs. This decreases the risk for airway constriction and reduces the frequency of asthma attacks. This procedure is reserved for people with severe asthma who do not see relief from their asthma symptoms after using both long-term control measures and quick-relief medicines.

Treatment for Allergic Asthma

People with allergy-induced asthma may need a third type of medicine. Doctors may prescribe an allergy medicine for people with this type of asthma.

The most commonly used allergy medicines include allergy shots, antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye drops. Immunomodulators are designed to suppress the immune system, and they are prescribed both to treat allergies and prevent asthma attacks. Oral corticosteroids can treat severe allergic reactions.

Creating the Best Treatment Plan for You

Your treatment options will depend on the type of asthma you have, how severe it is, and what triggers it. Your doctor will help you evaluate how successful the treatments are. Your doctor may change the treatments if they think you would respond better to something else. Over time, your lifestyle and environment may also influence how effective your treatments are. Asthma treatment is an ongoing, evolving process. Together, you and your doctor can respond to your symptoms and create a disease management plan that works well for you.