Asthma Short-term Treatments

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Emergency inhalers (Ventolin, Proair, Proventil, Xopenex)

Now that there is an understanding on asthma, the next step is to learn what treatments are available. There are two types of inhalers, short-acting-beta-2 agonists (SABA) also known as “emergency” inhalers, and the second are long term preventative inhalers. The short-acting-beta-2-agonists are the most effective first line treatment for an asthma attack. The SABA inhalers are commonly called Albuterol inhalers which are bronchodilators used only to treat an asthma attack. The most common albuterol inhalers are Proair, Ventolin, and Proventil inhalers. A very important point to stress about these inhalers are they are to be taken only as needed. They are not to be taken every day around the clock since they do not help prevent an asthma attack.

They come in inhalation pumps as meter dosed inhalers (MDI) and nebulizer solutions. Proper inhaler technique is integral in treatment. If you’ve forgotten, you can take a look at the end of this article or check out the video under resources→video tutorials.

Children under 2 years have better responses using the nebulized albuterol solutions. In an emergency room visit, it is not uncommon to be treated with 2.5 mg doses of nebulized albuterol during an exacerbation.


Side Effects of Albuterol inhalers:

  • throat irritation
  • cough
  • bad taste
  • headache
  • heart palpitations
  • tachycardia

Corticosteroids (Prednisone, Prelone or Prednisolone syrup, Orapred, Dexamethasone, etc)

Corticosteroids are the most effective anti-inflammatories available to treat asthma. They can be used in treatment of acute severe asthma and are also recommended for severe asthma unresponsive to bronchodilators such as the albuterol inhalers. Prednisone, Prednisolone (Prelone) syrup, and dexamethasone are common corticosteroids. Patients may receive a prescription for a 3-5 day burst therapy of corticosteroids after an asthma attack to reduce another trip to the emergency room!


Goals for treating an asthma attack:

Daily monitoring and continuous diligence in one’s personal health is essential to prevent the life-threatening asthma epidemic.  Recognizing early signs of an asthma progressively worsening and early intervention is the key in preventing life-threatening asthma attacks.

The primary goals of treating an asthma attack include:

  • Stabilizing oxygen level to maintain proper lung functions
  • Reducing & eliminating internal/external airflow obstructions
  • Formulating alternative strategies to prevent similar incidents from occurring

Side effects: Corticosteroids

Short term therapy for corticosteroids should not produce the more severe side effects. Long-term therapy is where we start seeing the severe side effects. Long-term corticosteroids are never to rarely used to treat asthma attacks. So if you see a prescription for 1 month+ for an asthma attack, please double check with your pharmacist if that’s correct.


Common Side effects:

  • Nausea Vomiting
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Acne
  • Glucose intolerance
  • Dyspepsia
  • Fluid retention
  • Insomnia

Severe Reactions:

  • Cushing syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Seizures
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Pancreatitis
  • Tendon rupture
  • Osteoporosis.