Health Information

Questions About Asthma Medication

When you have questions about using your asthma medications or need to help your child with his or her medications, getting the right answers can make a big difference in controlling symptoms. Below are answers to some common questions about asthma medications. Be sure to talk with your health care provider or pharmacist if you have any questions about these medications.

Q. What are some signs that my medication schedule may need to be adjusted?

A. If you are using your quick-relief medication for asthma symptoms more than twice a week, or more often than your health care provider recommended, see your health care provider.

Q. What are some signs that my asthma may be out of control?

A. If your symptoms cause you to miss work or school, or if they keep you awake at night. Your provider may need to adjust your medications, or prescribe different medications.

Q. Is it OK to use my quick-relief bronchodilator more often than prescribed?

A. No. Using them more often than prescribed for worsening symptoms can delay proper treatment. Talk with your health care provider if this is occurring.

Q. What’s the difference between long-term control medication and quick-relief medication?

A. Long-term control medication is taken every day to treat ongoing inflammation. This type of medication treats the underlying cause of asthma rather than lessening the symptoms. Quick-relief medication (also known as rescue or reliever medication) is taken at the first sign of asthma symptoms for immediate relief.

Q. Is it OK to stop my long-term control medication if I don’t have symptoms?

A. No. The fact that you don’t have symptoms is a sign that your treatment is working the way it should. If you stop taking the medication, your asthma is likely to get worse again.

Q. How can I tell if my child’s quick-relief medication is working?

A. Your child should begin breathing easier and feeling better within 5 to 10 minutes. A peak-flow meter—a device that measures how fast your child can blow out air after a maximum inhalation—can also be helpful. If possible, check your child’s peak flow before giving the medication and then 20 to 30 minutes afterward. The peak flow should improve by the second reading. If your child’s symptoms don’t improve as expected, get medical help immediately.

Q. What can I do if my child is having trouble using an inhaler?

A. An inhaler releases medicine in a mist, which is breathed into the lungs. Although this type of inhaler works well, it can be tricky to use properly. Ask your health care provider about a spacer, a device that attaches to the inhaler to make it easier to use. In some cases, a nebulizer device can be used. 

Q. Can I take an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine instead of my prescription?

A. No. Never take OTC medicine in place of prescription medications. Although you might be able to use some OTC decongestants and antihistamines in addition to your prescribed medication, always check with your health care provider first. Some OTC products can be dangerous for people with asthma. .