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Quick-Relief Medications


Lt Col Reynolds
Patients with asthma are prescribed a quick-relief or "rescue" medication to stop asthma symptoms before they get worse. Dr. Flemings, can you tell us more about these quick-relief medications?

Dr. Flemings
Sure, Dr. Reynolds. Quick-relief medicines help to stop asthma attacks after they've started, but they can also help prevent expected attacks, such as those caused by exercise. These medicines usually take effect within minutes, and those effects may last up to four hours.

Inhaled short-acting beta-agonists are the most common quick-relief medicine. They are called bronchodilators. During an asthma attack, inflamed airways become too narrow due to overproduction of mucus and spasm of the muscles around the airways. Bronchodilators act quickly to relax the tightened muscles so that they can open and allow more air to flow through.

Commonly used short-acting beta-agonists include albuterol, levalbuterol, and pirbuterol. Ipratropium is another type of inhaled medicine that may be prescribed for some patients with asthma. Many of these quick-relief medications are inhaled through a metered-dose inhaler, which is a pocket-sized device that you can easily learn to use when you feel asthma symptoms coming on.

You should take your quick-relief medicine when you first begin to feel asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, or shortness of breath. It's important that you carry your quick-relief inhaler with you at all times in case of an asthma attack.

Your provider may recommend that you take your quick-relief medicines at other times as well, for example, before you exercise or engage in other strenuous activities.