Asthma is a chronic condition that affects the lungs. When a person's asthma flares up, they can experience wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, as well as coughing at night and early in the morning. While avoiding triggers like smoke or allergens can limit asthma attacks, a chronic condition like asthma typically requires ongoing management.

These treatments have many forms, each with unique benefits and risks. Some people may also find that certain lifestyle changes can help them manage their asthma.

Short-Acting Bronchodilators

As the name states, bronchodilators work by dilating the bronchi and bronchioles, improving airflow to the lungs. The inhalers that most people associate with asthma attacks usually deliver a short-acting bronchodilator. These quick-relief or “rescue” medications target acute bronchoconstriction following exposure to a trigger.

The effect occurs within minutes and lasts for a few hours. If a person finds themselves regularly needing short-acting bronchodilators, they may also need changes to their routine medications.

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Long-Acting Bronchodilators

In addition to more immediate bronchodilators, many people with asthma also rely on long-term treatments like long-acting bronchodilators. While they do not provide fast relief, they can dramatically ease symptoms for people with ongoing asthma issues.

Most long-acting bronchodilators relieve airway constriction for up to 12 hours, so most people take them twice a day. Doctors will often prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug as well, to limit potential side effects.

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Another form of bronchodilator, an anticholinergic is a drug that provides significant long-term relief and reduces the risk of asthma attacks. Usually, doctors reserve these drugs for people with severe symptoms or multiple respiratory conditions, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well as asthma.

Because anticholinergics cannot stop asthma attacks already in progress, people with this prescription also need short-acting bronchodilators.

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In terms of long-term control, most experts find that corticosteroids are the most effective option. Corticosteroids are available in both oral and inhaler forms, and the dosage depends on symptom severity. These drugs fight inflammation, preventing airway restriction.

Studies show that daily use of corticosteroids is more effective in managing asthma attacks in comparison to intermittent use.

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Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists

In conjunction with corticosteroids and bronchodilators, leukotriene receptor antagonists—also called antileukotrienes—can improve asthma control in people who have not responded well to other treatments.

The immune system produces leukotrienes to promote inflammation, mucus secretion, and bronchoconstriction when fighting off invading allergens. However, these functions contribute to COPD and asthma. Antileukotrienes inhibit these functions and can aid in treating the respective conditions.

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Mast Cell Stabilizers

Some people are unable to tolerate steroids and similar treatments. In these cases, doctors may prescribe mast cell stabilizers. These drugs control allergic disorders by preventing cells from releasing histamine, providing relief for asthma, hay fever, and similar issues.

However, because mast cell stabilizers require frequent administration, most experts prefer to use other options.

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Magnesium Sulfate

When asthma does not respond to more typical treatment options, doctors may deliver magnesium sulfate through an IV. In combination with other drugs, this improves airway restrictions in people with severe asthma. Some researchers have found that inhaling small amounts of nebulized magnesium sulfate also helps, but there is less evidence supporting these findings.

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Antibody Injections

Asthma frequently involves inflammation resulting from overly-sensitive immune systems. In instances where medical experts are struggling to manage symptoms, they may turn to monoclonal antibody injections to limit the immune response.

While effective in preventing asthma attacks, these drugs are extremely expensive. Because of this, doctors only use them in severe cases.

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Generally, people with asthma struggle to exercise because of the looming potential for an asthma attack when they get out of breath. However, for those with stable asthma, exercise may improve lung function and improve asthma symptoms.

Because of the risk of aggravation, health experts recommend more gentle physical activities, such as yoga. The focus on breathing and gentle movements makes yoga far more accessible to the average person with asthma.

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Cognitive-Behavior Therapy

People with asthma tend to have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and stress. Studies also show that people who report having these conditions and asthma often have worse asthma control.

Cognitive-behavior therapy and similar talk therapies can help treat mental health issues and, as a result, provide asthma relief in some cases. These therapies are not a replacement for ongoing medications.

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