Asthma: reliever medications

Reliever medications work as bronchodilators. That means that they relax the muscle around your airways, making the passages themselves wider. Because their fast action provides relief almost straight away, they are used as the ‘first aid’ treatment for asthma symptoms.

If you're finding that you are using your reliever more frequently than usual, or that your usual dose of reliever medication isn't offering as much relief as it used to, you should see your doctor for advice and a review of your treatment, as this indicates that your asthma may not be adequately controlled.

Short-acting beta2 agonists

The mainstay medicines for the relief of acute asthma symptoms and asthma attacks after they have started are the short-acting beta2 agonists. These include:

  • salbutamol (e.g. Airomir, Asmol, Epaq or Ventolin); and
  • terbutaline (e.g. Bricanyl).

Asthma relievers should be carried with you at all times in case of an asthma attack, but used only as needed. However, if you get exercise-induced asthma, your doctor might recommend that you inhale one or 2 measured doses of your reliever before exercise.

Side effects

Side effects can include:

  • shaking, or tremor;
  • feeling anxious or nervous; and
  • increased heart rate.

Combination medicine

A combination medicine containing a rapid-onset, long-acting beta2 agonist plus an inhaled corticosteroid can be used in certain people with asthma, and acts as both a reliever and long-term preventer medicine. The combination medicine Symbicort contains:

  • eformoterol (a rapid-onset long-acting beta2 agonist, which can open up the airways quickly and help keep them open); plus
  • budesonide (an inhaled corticosteroid).

Side effects

Side effects may include:

  • headache;
  • palpitations;
  • tremor;
  • oral thrush;
  • cough;
  • mild throat irritation; and
  • hoarse voice.
Last Reviewed: 10 September 2015
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References

1. National Asthma Council Australia. Australian Asthma Handbook, Version 1.0. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne, 2014. Website. Available from: http://www.asthmahandbook.org.au (accessed Aug 2015).
2. National Asthma Council Australia. Australian Asthma Handbook – Quick Reference Guide, Version 1.1. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne, 2015. Available from: http://www.asthmahandbook.org.au (accessed Aug 2015).
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