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Asthma is more than a day-to-day problem that makes your life difficult. Over time it damages your airways and lungs. That damage can lead to serious health problems. So it's important to keep your asthma under control with medicine.
Daily controller medicine prevents asthma attacks. It helps stop problems before they happen. It also reduces inflammation in your lungs. These things help you control your asthma. A daily controller medicine isn't used to treat an asthma attack, because it works too slowly.
Quick-relief medicine is for times when you can't prevent symptoms and need to treat them fast. It's not intended as the daily medicine you take to control your asthma.
One of the best tools for managing asthma is a controller medicine that has a corticosteroid ("steroid"). But some people worry about taking steroid medicines for asthma because of myths they've heard about them.
If you're making a decision about using a steroid inhaler, it helps to know the facts.
"No matter how I take steroids, the side effects are the same."
The inhaled steroids in asthma medicine go just to the site of the problem—your lungs. This is different than the kind of steroids you inject or take in a pill, which go throughout the body and are riskier.
"Taking inhaled steroids will make me grow muscles and hair."
The steroids in asthma medicine are a different type of steroid than the muscle-building, hair-growing kind. And because you inhale the medicine, it goes right to your lungs where it's needed.
"Taking inhaled steroids will stunt my child's growth."
For children, there may be a slight slowing in growth from inhaled steroids. The difference in height is very small, and this side effect is rare.1, 2 But for most people, this is made up for by the improved ability to breathe because of the positive effects of the medicine.
"I can control my asthma using only my quick-relief inhaler."
Many people will only find relief and get good control over their asthma by using controller medicine.
Guilbert TW, et al. (2006). Long-term inhaled corticosteroids in preschool children at high risk for asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 354(19): 1985–1997.
Kelly HW, et al. (2012). Effect of inhaled glucocorticoids in childhood on adult height. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(10): 904–912.
August 21, 2012
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
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