People with asthma have what is called a chronic (long-lasting) problem with their airways. Everyday stuff, like animal dander or cigarette smoke, can trigger a flare-up. A flare-up makes it hard to breathe because the airways can get swollen and clogged with mucus. The muscles around the airways can tighten up, too. Less air is able to get in and out of the lungs.
This kind of medicine immediately loosens the muscles around the airways. That opens up the airways and makes it easier to breathe. Quick-relief medicines are also called "fast-acting" or "rescue" medicines. They're usually breathed straight into the lungs where they relieve wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath, often within minutes. The most common rescue medication is called a quick-acting bronchodilator (pronounced: brahn-ko-dye-LAY-tur).
This kind of medicine decreases overall airway swelling and mucus. Long-term control medicines work over a long period of time to help heal the airways and prevent asthma symptoms. For that reason, they're sometimes also called "controller" or "maintenance" medicines. They may be inhaled or taken as a pill or liquid.
Long-term control medicines are particularly important to take regularly, even if you're feeling fine. Taken properly, they'll decrease the number of flare-ups you have.
The most common long-term control medicines are called inhaled corticosteroids (pronounced: kor-tih-ko-STAIR-oyds). Although they have "steroid" in the name, they are not the same thing as performance-enhancing steroids used by athletes — they only work in your lungs. Corticosteroids are a safe and proven treatment for asthma.
Quick-relief medicines are important during a flare-up because they help you breathe more easily right away. If your doctor has prescribed quick-relief medicine you should always have it with you — at school, on the basketball court, at the mall, and even on vacation.
But quick-relief medicines wear off quickly after you take them. And they don't do anything to help prevent a flare-up from happening in the first place. That's where long-term control medicine comes in. Unlike quick-relief medicine, you might not notice long-term control medicine doing anything. But the medicine is working behind the scenes to keep you from getting asthma flare-ups.
As the name suggests, long-term control medicine is important for controlling asthma on a regular basis. If your doctor thinks you're needing rescue medicine too often, he or she doctor might also prescribe long-term control medicine.
Some people with mild asthma use only quick-relief medicines. Most people who have more severe asthma have to take long-term control medicine every day, as well as use quick-relief medicine when they have asthma symptoms. Your doctor will decide what type of medicine you need and how often you need to take it.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: February 2014
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The ACAAI is an organization of allergists-immunologists and health professionals dedicated to quality patient care. Contact them at: American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology|
85 W. Algonquin Road
Suite 550 Arlington Heights, IL 60005
|American Lung Association The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association|
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
NY, NY 10006
|AIRNow A cross-agency U.S. government website, AIRNow provides useful air quality information, including daily Air Quality Index forecasts and details on conditions in more than 300 U.S. cities.|
|Asthma Action Plan Use this printable sheet to help manage your asthma.|
|Asthma Center Visit our Asthma Center for information and advice on managing and living with asthma.|
|How Can I Deal With My Asthma? Asthma is more common these days than it used to be. The good news is it's also a lot easier to manage and control.|
|What's an Asthma Flare-Up? An asthma flare-up (or attack) can cause coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and trouble breathing. Sometimes, symptoms can be severe. Find out what causes flare-ups and what you can do in this article.|
|Dealing With an Asthma Flare-Up Asthma flare-ups, or attacks, can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from happening. Find out how to deal with flare-ups.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.