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Antiasthmatic Drugs

Definition, Purpose, Description, Precautions, Side effects, Interactions

Antiasthmatic drugs are medicines that treat or prevent asthma attacks.


For people with asthma, the simple act of breathing can be a struggle. Their airways become inflamed and blocked with mucus during asthma attacks, narrowing the opening through which air passes. This is not such a problem when the person breathes in, because the airways naturally expand when a person takes a breath. The real problem arises when the person with asthma tries to breathe out. The air cannot get out through the blocked airways, so it stays trapped in the lungs. With each new breath, the person can take in only a little more air, so breathing becomes shallow and takes more and more effort.

Asthma attacks can be caused by allergies to pollen, dust, pets or other things, but people without known allergies may also have asthma. Exercise, stress, intense emotions, exposure to cold, certain medicines and some medical conditions also can bring on attacks.

The two main approaches to dealing with asthma are avoiding substances and situations that trigger attacks and using medicines that treat or prevent the symptoms. With a combination of the two, most people with asthma can find relief and live normal lives.


Three types of drugs are used in treating and preventing asthma attacks:

Antiasthmatic Drugs

Antiasthmatic Drugs
Brand Name (Generic Name) Possible Common Side Effects Include:
AeroBid (aerobid-m, nasalide) Diarrhea, headache, nausea, sore throat
Alupent (metaproterenol sulfate) Cough, increased blood pressure and heart rate, nausea, upset stomach
Atrovent (ipratropium bromide) Blurred vision, dry mouth, rash, headache
Azmacort (triamcinolone acetonide) Dry mouth, dry and irritated throat
Beclovent Inhalation Aerosol, Beconase Dry mouth, fluid retention, rash, headache, nasal irritation and burning, watery eyes AQ Nasal Spray, Beconase Inhalation Aerosol (beclomethasone dipropionate)
Brethine (terbutaline sulate) Difficulty in breathing, drowsiness, headache, increased heartbeat, vomiting
Decadron Tables (dexamethasone) Blood clots, bruising, fluid retention, increased blood pressure, hives
Decadron Turbinaire/Respihaler Headache, nausea, coughing, irritated throat (dexamethasone sodium phosphate)
Deltasone (orasone) Changes in behavior, mood and personality, may cause depression, fluid retention, increased blood pressure
Intal (cromolyn sodium) Nausea, coughing and sneezing, irritated throat
Medrol (methylprednisolone) Bruising, cataracts, increased blood pressure, stomach ulcer, rash, vertigo
Pediapred (prednisolone sodium phosphate) Loss of bone and muscle mass, dizziness, fluid retention, diabetes, peptic ulcer
Provential (albuterol sulfate) Diarrhea, headache, heartburn, muscle cramps, nausea, ringing in the ears
Theo-Dur (theophylline) Nausea, diarrhea, hair loss, decreased blood pressure, rash, sleepiness
Tilade (neodocromil sodium) Chest pain, headache, nausea, sore throat
  • Bronchodilators relax the smooth muscles that line the airway. This makes the airways open wider, letting more air pass through them. These drugs are used mainly to relieve sudden asthma attacks or to prevent attacks that might come on after exercise. They may be taken by mouth, injected or inhaled.
  • Corticosteroids block the inflammation that narrows the airways. Used regularly, these drugs will help prevent asthma attacks. Those attacks that do occur will be less severe. However, corticosteroids cannot stop an attack that is already underway. These drugs may be taken by mouth, injected or inhaled.
  • Cromolyn also is taken regularly to prevent asthma attacks and may be used alone or with other asthma medicines. It cannot stop an attack that already has started. The drug works by preventing certain cells in the body from releasing substances that cause allergic reactions or asthma symptoms. One brand of this drug, Nasalcrom, comes in capsule and nasal spray forms and is used to treat hay fever and other allergies. The inhalation form of the drug, Intal, is used for asthma. It comes in aerosol canisters, in capsules that are inserted into an inhaler, and in liquid form that is used in a nebulizer.


Using antiasthmatic drugs properly is important. Because bronchodilators provide quick relief, some people may be tempted to overuse them. However, with some kinds of bronchodilators, this can lead to serious and possibly life-threatening complications. In the long run, patients are better off using bronchodilators only as directed and also using corticosteroids, which eventually will reduce their need for bronchodilators.

Patients who are using their antiasthmatic drugs correctly but feel their asthma is not under control should see their physicians. The physician can either increase the dose, switch to another medicine or add another medicine to the regimen.

Corticosteroids are powerful drugs that may cause serious side effects when used over a long time. However, these problems are much less likely with the inhalant forms than with the oral and injected forms. While the oral and injected forms generally should be used only for one to two weeks, the inhalant forms may be used for long periods.

When used to prevent asthma attacks, cromolyn must be taken as directed every day. The drug may take as long as four weeks to start working. Unless told to do so by a physician, patients should not stop taking the drug just because it does not seem to be working. When symptoms do begin to improve, patients should continue taking all medicines that have been prescribed, unless a physician directs otherwise.

Side effects

Inhalant forms of antiasthmatic drugs may cause dryness or irritation in the throat, dry mouth, or an unpleasant taste in the mouth. To help prevent these problems, gargle and rinse the mouth or take a sip of water after each dose.

More serious side effects are not common when these medicines are used properly. However, anyone who has unusual or bothersome symptoms after taking an antiasthmatic drug should get in touch with a physician.


Check with a physician or pharmacist before combining antiasthmatic drugs with any other prescription or nonprescription (over-the-counter) medicine.

Nancy Ross-Flanigan


Asthma—A disease in which the air passages of the lungs become inflamed and narrowed.

Inflammation—Pain, redness, swelling, and heat that usually develop in response to injury or illness.

Inhalant—Medicine that is breathed into the lungs.

Mucus—Thick fluid produced by the moist membranes that line many body cavities and structures.

Nebulizer—A device that turns liquid forms of medicine into a fine spray that can be inhaled.

Additional topics

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