Starting New Asthma Medications: What to Expect

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Asthma is a common disease that affects as many as 1 in 12 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With the number of asthma cases on the rise, the likelihood of patients facing a new diagnosis is higher than it’s ever been. Knowing what you will face in the first year on asthma medications can help you to better control your condition.

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Your maintenance medication may take some time to kick in.

Depending on the specific maintenance medication you are prescribed, it can take days or weeks to completely kick in and prevent asthma attacks. Follow your physician’s instructions regarding quick relief or rescue inhalers during that time.

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You may need medication adjustments.

The American Academy of Asthma and Immunology recommends a stepwise approach, in which medications may be increased until your asthma is controlled. Once you gain control, your physician may reduce your dosage. The key is to determine the lowest dose that provides consistent symptom relief.

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You may have side effects.

Most people tolerate their asthma medications - especially at low doses. Some people feel shaky, nervous, or irritable, but symptoms tend to subside over time. Oral thrush is a rare complication of some asthma medications, but it can be avoided through the use of a spacer and by rinsing the mouth after taking your medication.

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You may not get to ditch the oral steroids right away.

Oral corticosteroids can be used in asthma flare ups to reduce airway inflammation. If you have been using them for a while, your physician may have to reduce them gradually. You may also be prescribed a short round for current or additional flare ups as your doctor sees fit. The goal is always to reduce the reliance on oral corticosteroids whenever possible.

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You will develop an Asthma Action Plan for your medication.

An Asthma Action Plan is a plan developed with your physician so you know how to react in the event of an asthma attack. You should be especially clear on your rescue medication dosage and frequency in the event of an attack.

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Your doctor may prescribe additional medications.

Newer medications called biologics are being added to the asthma medication arsenal. Xolair (omalizumab) injections can be used for some cases of moderate to severe persistent asthma triggered by allergic reactions.

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You may monitor how your medication is working at home.

Monitoring how your asthma medication is working can also be done daily with a Peak Flow Monitor. This is an important tool to determine how the lungs are functioning throughout the first year. You should record your results and electronically send them or take them to your physician as they need.

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Additional testing may be done for allergies.

According to the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, and Immunology, the most common form of asthma is allergic asthma. That is why you will often be asked about your allergy history and may be tested for allergies.

Doctor explaining asthma medication.
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In summary

The first year on asthma medications will vary depending on the extent of your disease, what medication your physician prescribes, and how uncontrolled your breathing was when you started. If you are unclear about any of your medications, make a follow up appointment or call your doctor’s office.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.