The Best Medicine for Asthma

Woman using an inhaler, France

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Are you wondering what's the best medicine for your asthma? The answer depends on the severity of your condition.

Everyone with asthma should have a rescue medication available, such as albuterol, for the quick relief of asthma symptoms. However, the majority of people with asthma also require a controller medication.

A controller medication is used to prevent asthma symptoms and is taken every day regardless of how the person’s asthma is doing that day.

To determine the best asthma protocol for you, find out if your asthma is controlled. Then talk to your healthcare provider so that a controller therapy can be prescribed.

Asthma Medications

Controller medicines are those medicines that are taken every day (sometimes multiple times a day) regardless of asthma symptoms. These medicines are taken all of the time in order to control the inflammation and swelling of the airways.

This leads to less irritation and constriction of the muscles around the airways and therefore fewer asthma symptoms. These medicines usually take a few days to a few weeks in order to start working, but then a person with asthma notices that less and less rescue medicine is needed.

Asthma Controllers

Available controllers include inhaled steroids such as Flovent (fluticasone) and Pulmicort (budesonide), leukotriene blockers such as Singulair (montelukast), and combination therapy with long-acting beta-agonists such as Advair (fluticasone/salmeterol) and Symbicort (budesonide/formoterol).

Other medicines, such as theophylline and Xolair, are typically used in addition to an inhaled corticosteroid or leukotriene blocker to control asthma. It would be unusual for a patient to only take theophylline or Xolair without another medicine to treat asthma. Talk to your doctor about the best combination treatment for you.

Asthma Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Woman


It doesn't matter how well a medicine works if a person forgets to take it. Many people like the idea of taking a once-daily pill, such as Singulair, for the long-term control of their asthma.

Singular is not appropriate for all asthma patients. It would be reasonable to try a medication like Singulair, as long as there is a re-assessment of asthma control after a period of a few weeks.

Inhaled Steroids

Inhaled steroids are the preferred controller medication for people with uncontrolled asthma. These medications provide better control of asthma symptoms and prevent future asthma attacks better than leukotriene blockers.

Most inhaled steroids are taken twice a day, although some are FDA-approved to be taken once a day (such as Asmanex).

For those people whose asthma is not well controlled on an inhaled steroid or those with more severe asthma, the combination of an inhaled steroid and a long-acting beta-agonist may be required.

This combination therapy appears to be the best medication for these people, which results in the reduction of asthma symptoms, improvement of lung function, and the reduction of use of rescue medications. 

Side Effects of Asthma Medications

Generally, asthma medicines are safe therapies, and generally, the benefits of these medicines far outweigh their risks. That being said, there are a number of side effects to consider with the various controller therapies. Here are some links to a list of common side effects of the most common asthma controller medicines:

  1. Inhaled corticosteroids causing thrush, growth suppression and bone thinning.
  2. Singulair causing mood and behavioral changes.
  3. Inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists (such as Advair) causing worsening asthma in certain ethnic groups.
  4. Xolair causing anaphylaxis (severe allergic reactions).
  5. Theophylline causing cardiac arrhythmias.
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Article Sources
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