Asthma - quick-relief drugs
Asthma - quick-relief drugs - short-acting beta-agonists; Asthma - quick-relief drugs - bronchodilators; Asthma - quick-relief drugs - oral steroids; Asthma - rescue drugs; Bronchial asthma - quick relief; Reactive airway disease - quick relief; Exercise-induced asthma - quick relief
Short-acting beta-agonists are the most common quick-relief drugs for treating asthma attacks.
They can be used just before exercising to help prevent asthma symptoms caused by exercise. They work by relaxing the muscles of your airways, and this lets you breathe better during an attack.
Tell your provider if you are using quick-relief medicines twice a week or more to control your asthma symptoms. Your asthma may not be under control, and your provider may need to change your dose of daily control drugs.
Some quick-relief asthma medicines include:
- Albuterol (ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, Ventolin HFA)
- Levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)
Short-acting beta-agonists may cause these side effects:
- Tremor (your hand or another part of your body may shake).
- Fast and irregular heartbeats. Call your provider right away if you have this side effect.
If you have a chronic lung disease, like asthma or COPD, a metered-dose inhaler is often your main type of therapy. An inhaler is a small, hand-held device that delivers medicine in the form of a spray that you breathe in. Using an inhaler may seem easy, but many people don't use them the right way. You need to know how to use your inhaler correctly for the medicine to get to your lungs and work effectively. A spacer device will help. The spacer connects to the inhaler mouthpiece, and the medicine goes into the spacer tube first. This allows you to breathe in the medicine more easily. Using a spacer wastes a lot less medicine than spraying the medicine directly into your mouth. It also makes it less important to get the exact timing for activating the inhaler while taking in a breath. These are instructions for using an inhaler with a spacer. First off, if you have not used the inhaler in a while, you may need to prime it. See the instructions that came with your inhaler for when and how to do this. Take the caps off the inhaler and spacer. Look inside each mouthpiece to make sure there is nothing in it. Shake the inhaler 10 to 15 times to mix the medicine with the propellant. Attach the inhaler mouthpiece to the open end of the spacer and hold it upright. Stand or sit upright. Breathe out all the way to empty your lungs. Place the spacer mouthpiece in your mouth so that it fits just past your teeth and above your tongue. Close your lips around the spacer so that you form a tight seal. Tilt your head back slightly. As you slowly begin to breathe in through your mouth, press down once on the top of the inhaler. Keep breathing in slowly, as deeply as you can. Your spacer may have a whistle that sounds if you breathe in too fast. Take the spacer out of your mouth. Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds. This lets the medicine reach deep into your lungs. Breathe out slowly through your mouth. If you need a second puff, wait about 1 minute before you take your next puff. Put the caps back on the inhaler and spacer. After using your inhaler, gargle and rinse your mouth with water. Do not swallow the water. This helps reduce side effects from your medicine. To keep your inhaler and spacer operating correctly, you need to keep them clean. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for when and how often to clean your inhaler and spacer. Using your inhaler with a spacer the right way ensures you get the medicine you need. It's a good idea to bring your inhaler and spacer to your medical appointments. That way your health care provider can make sure you are using them correctly.
Your provider might prescribe oral steroids when you have an asthma attack that is not going away. These are medicines that you take by mouth as pills, capsules, or liquids.
Oral steroids are not quick-relief medicines but are often given for 7 to 14 days when your symptoms flare-up.
Oral steroids include:
Bergstrom J, Kurth SM, Bruhl E, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement website. Health Care Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 11th ed.
Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM. Asthma. In: Marcdante KJ, Kliegman RM, eds. Nelson Essentials of Pediatrics. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 78.
Papi A, Brightling C, Pedersen SE, Reddel HK. Asthma. Lancet. 2018;391(10122):783-800. PMID: 29273246
Vishwanathan RK, Busse WW. Management of asthma in adolescents and adults. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 52.
Last reviewed on: 1/13/2020
Reviewed by: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.