Asthma - control drugs


Control medicines for asthma are drugs you take to control your asthma symptoms. You must use these medicines every day for them to work well. You and your health care provider can make a plan for the medicines that work for you. This plan will include when you should take them and how much you should take.

You may need to take these medicines for at least a month before you start to feel better.

Take the medicines even when you feel OK. Take enough with you when you travel. Plan ahead. Make sure you do not run out.

Video: Inhaler with spacer - adults

Test Your Knowledge About Inhalers

Most people with asthma use an inhaler to take their medicines.

The correct answer is true. When people with asthma use an inhaler, they breathe in their medicine. The medicines go directly to their airways. Asthma medicines also come as pills or liquid. Your doctor will help you find the right medicine for you and the best way to take it.

What are the main types of inhalers?

The correct answer is all of the above. Not all inhalers are used the same way. Follow the directions and ask your pharmacist if you have questions about them. Bring your inhaler to your medical appointments so your doctor can make sure you are using it correctly.

Can children use inhalers?

The correct answer is yes. Children can use an inhaler – and they should have a spacer for it. The spacer tube helps them get the medicine into their lungs properly. A nebulizer is another option, especially for younger children. This machine turns asthma medicine into a mist children can breathe in.

Which of the following statements about spacers is NOT true?

The correct answer is you should always use a spacer with a dry powder inhaler. You do not need a spacer when using a dry powder inhaler. But a spacer makes it easier to use an MDI. Some inhaled medicines can irritate the mouth and throat. A spacer can help because it enables more medicine to get to your airways.

Inhaled steroids are usually the first choice for what type of asthma treatment?

The correct answer is long-term control. Inhaled steroids prevent asthma symptoms by reducing airway swelling. They're preferred medicines because they are safe and work well. The best way to manage your asthma is to take your long-term control drugs every day, even when you feel good.

Are inhaled steroids safe for children?

The correct answer is A Yes. Inhaled steroids can slow a child's growth a small amount in the first months of use, but this is uncommon. Having asthma that is not controlled can also slow growth. Talk with your doctor about what's best for you or your child.

It's a good idea to do this after using your MDI.

The correct answer is rinse your mouth. This can also help reduce the chance of side effects -- such as throat and mouth irritation -- from your medicine. Rinse your mouth with water, gargle, and spit the water out.

Your MDI needs regular cleaning.

The correct answer is true. Cleaning your inhaler will help keep it working right. Remove the metal canister from the mouthpiece. Rinse the mouthpiece and cap in warm water and let dry. Place the canister back inside, and put the cap on.

Is there a way to know when I'll need to refill my control medicine?

The correct answer is yes. Divide the number of puffs listed on your canister by the number of puffs you take each day. This is how many days your canister will last. Write the date you need to replace it on the canister so you'll know when to get more.

How should I store my MDI?

The correct answer is at room temperature. Your MDI may not work well if it is too cold. Also, the medicine in the canister is under pressure, so don't let it get too hot or poke a hole in it. Keep your inhaler in a place that's easy to remember, so you'll always have it when you need it.

Alternative Names

Asthma - inhaled corticosteroids; Asthma - long-acting beta-agonists; Asthma - leukotriene modifiers; Asthma - cromolyn; Bronchial asthma - control drugs; Wheezing - control drugs; Reactive airway disease - control drugs

Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled corticosteroids prevent your airways from swelling in order to help keep your asthma symptoms away.

Inhaled steroids are used with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) and spacer. Or, they may be used with a dry powder inhaler.

You should use an inhaled steroid every day, even if you do not have symptoms.

After you use it, rinse your mouth with water, gargle, and spit it out.

If your child cannot use an inhaler, your provider will give you a drug to use with a nebulizer. This machine turns liquid medicine into a spray so your child can breathe the medicine in.

Video: Inhaler with no spacer - adults

Long-acting Beta-agonist Inhalers

These medicines relax the muscles of your airways to help keep your asthma symptoms away.

Normally, you use these medicines only when you are using an inhaled steroid drug and you still have symptoms. Do not take these long-acting medicines alone.

Use this medicine every day, even if you do not have symptoms.

Combination Therapy

Your provider may ask you to take both a steroid drug and a long-acting beta-agonist drug.

It may be easier to use an inhaler that has both drugs in them.

Leukotriene Modifiers

These medicines are used to prevent asthma symptoms. They come in tablet or pill form and can be used together with a steroid inhaler.


Cromolyn is a medicine that may prevent asthma symptoms. It can be used in a nebulizer, so it may be easy for young children to take.


Asthma control drugs


Bergstrom J, Kurth SM, Bruhl E, et al. Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement website. Health Care Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 11th ed. Updated December 2016. Accessed January 27, 2020.

Drazen JM, Bel EH. Asthma. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 81.

O'Byrne PM, Satia I. Inhaled ß 2 –agonists. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 93.

Papi A, Brightling C, Pedersen SE, Reddel HK. Asthma. Lancet. 2018;391(10122):783-800. PMID: 29273246

Pollart SM, DeGeorge KC. Asthma in children. In: Kellerman RD, Rakel DP, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2020. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:1199-1206.

Vishwanathan RK, Busse WW. Management of asthma in adolescents and adults. In: Burks AW, Holgate ST, O'Hehir RE, et al, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 52.

Review Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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