How are asthma medications categorized?

Updated: Nov 20, 2020
  • Author: Michael J Morris, MD, FACP, FCCP; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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Asthma medications are generally divided into two categories:

  • Quick relief (also called reliever medications)

  • Long-term control (also called controller medications)

Quick relief

Quick relief medications are used to relieve acute asthma exacerbations and to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB) symptoms. These medications include short-acting beta agonists (SABAs), anticholinergics (used only for severe exacerbations), and systemic corticosteroids, which speed recovery from acute exacerbations.

Long-term control

Long-term control medications include inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs), [99, 100] long-acting beta agonists (LABAs), long-acting anticholinergics, combination inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta agonists, methylxanthines, and leukotriene receptor antagonists. Inhaled corticosteroids are considered the primary drug of choice for control of chronic asthma, but unfortunately the response to this treatment is characterized by wide variability among patients. A study by Tantisira et al showed the glucocorticoid-induced transcript 1 gene (GLCCI1) to be the cause of this decrease in response. [113]

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