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Asthma: Treatment Overview


While asthma is a common condition that affects millions of Americans, it typically requires treatment to manage. Luckily, there are a number of asthma treatment options available to help those who suffer with symptoms.

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Reviewed by the Office of Clinical Evaluation and Policy (OCEP), Evernorth

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects around 20 million adults in the United States. Living with asthma can be uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are several asthma treatment options available. In most cases, if you have asthma, you may be prescribed an inhaled medication you use every day. You may also be prescribed a quick-relief treatment in case you have an asthma attack.

Learn more about the different asthma treatment options available to improve asthma symptoms.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs and airways. Common asthma symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing. It is often triggered by allergens, such as pollen, pet dander, dust mites, and mold spores. However, it can also be triggered by other things, such as exercise and workplace irritants. The treatment a healthcare provider will recommend for asthma will depend on the severity of asthma symptoms, among other factors.

Asthma treatment options

Different types of asthma treatment options are available. Asthma medications are usually administered through an inhaler or nebulizer. This type of administration allows for medication to be delivered straight to the lungs.

Controller medications

Controller medications are used long-term to manage and prevent asthma symptoms. These medications are usually taken every day. Examples of controller medications include:

  • Long-acting beta-agonists (LABA)

Long-acting beta-agonists work by relaxing the smooth muscles of the lungs and airways to make breathing easier. Serevent® Diskus® (salmeterol) is an example of a LABA. LABAs are typically found in combination with other drugs, such as inhaled corticosteroids (ICS). Examples of LABA combination inhalers include Symbicort® (budesonide/formoterol), Breo® Ellipta® (fluticasone furoate/vilanterol), and Dulera® (formoterol/mometasone).

  • Long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMA)

Long-acting muscarinic antagonists are also called anticholinergics, and they work by blocking the bronchoconstriction (tightening) of airways, making breathing easier. Spiriva® Respimat® (tiotropium) is an example of a LAMA. LAMAs are usually combined with other drugs, such as LABAs and ICS, to control asthma symptoms. Examples of LAMA combination inhalers include Anoro® Ellipta® (umeclidinium/vilanterol), Stiolto® Respimat® (tiotropium/olodaterol) and Trelegy® Ellipta® (fluticasone/vilanterol/umeclidinium).

  • Inhaled corticosteroids (ICS)

Inhaled corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation in the airways. Examples of ICS medications include Flovent® (fluticasone), Pulmicort® (budesonide), and Qvar RediHaler® (beclomethasone). Depending on the severity of asthma symptoms, ICS are often combined with other inhaled medications.

  • Theophylline

Theophylline is not used as often as other medications to manage asthma symptoms. It is taken as a tablet, capsule, or liquid daily to help control asthma symptoms. Theo-24® is a brand name of theophylline.

Quick-relief medications

Quick-relief medications are used to provide rapid relief during an asthma attack. They are not used long-term to control asthma symptoms. A healthcare provider often prescribes a quick-relief or “rescue” inhaler in addition to a long-term controller medication.

  • Short-acting beta-agonists (SABA)

Short-acting beta-agonists work quickly to open up the airways during asthma attacks. These medications usually come as portable, hand-held inhalers for easy use during emergencies. Examples of SABAs include ProAir® HFA (albuterol), Ventolin® HFA (albuterol), and Xopenex® (levalbuterol).

Other medications

Other asthma treatments are available, depending on the severity and cause of asthma symptoms. Your healthcare provider may prescribe one of the following medications in addition to other medications.

  • Leukotriene modifiers

Leukotrienes are substances released during an asthma attack that cause the airways to narrow. Leukotriene modifiers are oral medications taken every day to manage asthma symptoms. Examples include Singular® (montelukast), Zyflo® (zileuton), and Accolate® (zafirlukast).

  • Biologics

Biologics are typically reserved for people with severe, persistent asthma symptoms. These drugs target specific proteins or cells involved with inflammation in the airways. Examples of biologics include Xolair® (omalizumab), Dupixent® (dupilumab), and Fasenra® (benralizumab).

Get the treatment you need

Always speak with a healthcare provider about the best asthma treatment option for you. Based on your overall condition, a healthcare provider may prescribe one or more medications to help control asthma symptoms. It is also important to use asthma inhalers or nebulizers correctly to maximize their benefits.


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