Ask a Pharmacist

What You Need to Know About Asthma

asthma inhaler image

by Tek Neopaney

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airway tubes of the lungs. During asthma attacks, the walls inside of the airway become sore, swollen, and red and produce mucus, making it harder to breathe. The airway tubes become very sensitive when they are inflamed and may react strongly to allergens. Air movement in and out of the lungs is constricted when inflammation is present, resulting in shortness of breath.

What Makes Asthma Worse?

There are many triggers of asthma. Common inhaled allergens that you may encounter at a daycare, home, school or work can trigger an asthma attack. Some avoidable allergens include mold, excretions from dust mites, cockroaches, and mice.

It’s common for many patients with high blood pressure to also have asthma. Some of the most effective and proven blood pressure medications are known to cause negative effects in people with asthma, so care is required in developing effective treatment plans.

Of the many different drugs available for treating hypertension, beta blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors have the most potential to cause problems for asthma patients.

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) are medications commonly used for pain. However, NSAIDs, like naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Motrin) can sometimes make asthma symptoms worse. Other body reactions, including upper airway illness, hormonal fluctuation, and extreme emotions, can trigger asthma attacks.

How Can You Control Your Asthma?

Influenza can worsen asthma symptoms and cause complications, so it’s important to get a flu vaccine annually. The best way to treat asthma is identifying and avoiding triggers, taking medication regularly in order to prevent symptoms, and treating asthma episodes as they occur. Home monitoring of the peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) can be very helpful, because it measures the airflow through airway and thus the degree of obstruction of airways. A peak flow meter is inexpensive and an easy way to assess asthma control.

Symptoms of Uncontrolled Asthma

If you have any of the following symptoms it’s considered uncontrolled asthma:

  • Coughing, wheezing, rapid breathing, or tightness of the chest experienced daily
  • Nighttime awakening more than twice a week
  • Need to use a short acting inhaler more than twice a week
  • If the asthma symptom is interfering with normal activities

Medications Used in Asthma Treatment

Long acting anticholinergic agents or beta agonists are the mainstay of asthma therapy. Common medications include:

These medications should be used regular for asthma control. Often, these medications can be combined. For example, in case of severe asthma, patients are often prescribed Acidinium and formoterol fumarate to use together on a regular basis.

Short acting inhalers, sometimes called rescue inhalers, are used for immediate symptomatic control:

How Do Asthma Medications Work?

Long acting anticholinergic agents work by competitively inhibiting the action of airway constriction. Short acting inhalers help to open up the airways by relaxing muscles of airway tubes.

Making an Asthma Action Plans

When you have asthma, your goal is to have a normal active life, and good control of your asthma. If your asthma is not well controlled, you may need to increase your medication and learn more about what triggers your asthma attacks. Your physician and pharmacist can provide you with information and an action plan to take care of your condition, so you can continue to be active and healthy.


  1. Bateman, Eric D., et al. “Overall asthma control: the relationship between current control and future risk.” Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 125.3 (2010): 600-608.
  2. Kew, K. M., & Dahri, K. (2016). Long-acting muscarinic antagonists (LAMA) added to combination long-acting beta2-agonists and inhaled corticosteroids (LABA/ICS) versus LABA/ICS for adults with asthma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (1).
  3. Friedman, B. C., & Goldman, R. D. (2010). Influenza vaccination for children with asthma. Canadian Family Physician56(11), 1137-1139.
  4. Zheng, T., Yu, J., Oh, M. H., & Zhu, Z. (2011). The atopic march: progression from atopic dermatitis to allergic rhinitis and asthma. Allergy, asthma & immunology research3(2), 67-73.

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