Quick relief asthma medications, also called rescue medications, are designed to keep you alive by providing quick relief during an acute asthma attack (episode). They are called short-acting bronchodilators because they quickly open up your airways. Quick-relief asthma medications can be separated into three distinct groups, as follows:
Inhaled Short-acting Beta-adrenergic and Beta2-adrenergic Agonists
Inhaled short-acting beta-adrenergic and beta2-adrenergic agonists are usually the best asthma medications for immediately relieving asthma attacks. They may be taken:
- During an acute asthma attack.
- When you first begin to feel a shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and chest tightness.
- Before you feel any symptoms or signs of an asthma episode but your breathing is weaker.
These bronchodilators begin their work within minutes and can last anywhere from two to six hours. Brand names include:
Oral and Intravenous Corticosteroids
Oral and intravenous corticosteroids may be taken to treat acute asthma attacks. They can take a few hours up to a few days to be fully effective. There are serious side effects related to the long-term use of oral and intravenous corticosteroids, which may include osteoporosis (loss of bone mineral), decreased resistance to infection, thinning of the skin, high blood pressure, cataracts, and muscle weakness. Brand names include:
Anticholinergic Asthma Medications
Anticholinergic asthma medications are normally used to treat acute asthma attacks, in combination with short acting beta-adrenergic and beta2-adrenergic agonists. These medications are designed to further dilate (widen) your airways after you’ve been given a short acting beta-adrenergic or Beta2-adrenergic agonist. When used alone anticholinergic asthma medications are only marginally effective. Anticholinergic asthma medications are used mainly by doctors in emergency departments. Brand names include: