Asthma – Controller and Quick-Relief Medicine
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What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic, or long-term, disease of the lungs. It can cause your airways (the air passages of your lungs) to become inflamed and narrow, making it harder for you to breathe. You may also wheeze or cough. This is called an asthma flare-up (or “attack”). Even when you feel good, your airways can be inflamed. Certain things, such as smoke, pollution, illness or dust, can start or trigger an asthma attack.
How is asthma treated?
Most people who have asthma take two kinds of medications. One kind is called a 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 healthcare provider has prescribed.
Another kind of asthma medicine is quick-relief or rescue 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.
Controller and Quick-Relief Medicines
Below are some of the prescription medicines most commonly used by people who have asthma:
- Inhaled corticosteroids
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Combination inhalers
- Short-acting beta agonist
- Ipratropium (anticholinergic)
- Oral and intravenous cortisone
- Immunomodulatory agents
How safe are controller medicines for asthma?
Controller medicines for asthma are safe to use every day. These are the most important medications used to keep your asthma under control by treating the airway inflammation that leads to asthma symptoms. You will not become addicted to these medicines even if you use them for many years.
Your healthcare provider may tell you to take controller medicine every day if:
- You cough, wheeze or have a tight chest more than once a week.
- You wake up at night because of asthma.
- You have many asthma attacks.
- You have to use quick-relief medicine every day to stop asthma attacks.
How should I use my quick-relief medicine?
Quick-relief medicine for asthma makes you feel better for a while. It may stop the attack. These medications are sometimes called rescue medications. With some attacks, you may think you are getting better but the airways are getting more and more swollen. If you find that you are using your quick-relief medicine more often, you need to let your healthcare provider know. If you use quick-relief medicine every day to stop asthma attacks, this means you need a preventive medicine for long-term control.
How can I control my asthma?
You can follow this easy 4-step program.
Step 1: Avoid or try to control your 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 (get a flu shot every year and avoid people who have a cold)
Step 2: Take your controller medicines every day.
- Most 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 healthcare provider to help you get your asthma under control. Then, do your part and take your medicines regularly.
Step 3: Be prepared. Always have asthma medicine with you.
- Always carry your quick-relief asthma medicine with you when you leave home.
Step 4: Act fast if an asthma attack starts. Know the signs that an asthma attack is starting:
- Tight chest
- Waking up at night
If you know what started the attack, avoid it if you can. Use your quick-relief asthma medicine. Stay calm for 1 hour to be sure breathing gets better.
How to Use a Spray Inhaler
Without a spacer
- Take off the cap. Shake the inhaler.
- Stand up. Breathe out.
- Put the inhaler in your mouth or put it just in front of your mouth.
- As you start to breathe in, push down on the top of the inhaler and keep breathing in slowly.
- Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Breathe out.
With a spacer
A spacer, or a holding chamber, makes it easier to use a spray inhaler. According to Asthma Canada:
- Shake the puffer well before use (three or four shakes)
- Remove the cap from your puffer, and from your spacer if it has one
- Put the puffer into the spacer
- Breathe out, away from the spacer
- Bring the spacer to your mouth, put the mouthpiece between your teeth, and close your lips around it
- Press the top of your puffer once
- Breathe in slowly until you’ve taken a full breath (If you hear a whistle sound, you’re breathing in too fast)
- Hold your breath for about 10 seconds; then breathe out
- If you need to take more than one puff at a time, wait a minimum of 30 seconds between puffs and be sure to shake the puffer (as in step 1) before each puff. Only put one puff of medication into the spacer at a time
What if I don’t get better?
Contact your healthcare provider or seek emergency care if you have any of the following asthma danger signs:
- Your quick-relief medicine does not help for very long or it does not help at all.
- Breathing is still fast and hard.
- It is hard to walk or talk.
- Lips or fingernails turn gray or blue.
- Your nostrils open wide when you breathe.
- Skin is pulled in around the ribs and neck when you breathe.
- Your heartbeat is very fast.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
The Lung Association of Nova Scotia
6331 Lady Hammond Road Suite#200
Halifax, NS B3K 2S2
Phone : 1-902-443-8141 Toll Free in NS : 1-888-566-5864
The Lung Association of Prince Edward Island
81 Prince Street
Charlottetown, PE, C1A 4R3
Phone: 902-892-5957 Toll Free in PEI : 1-888-566-5864
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)