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Asthma Management

Asthma is a disease that usually can be well controlled by taking medications and avoiding irritants, pollutants and allergens that may be making your asthma worse.

What does it mean to have well-controlled asthma?

You have well-controlled asthma if you:

  • Have asthma symptoms twice a week or less
  • Use quick-relief medicine twice a week or less
  • Do not have symptoms at night or upon waking
  • Do not have limitations during physical activity
  • Have a peak flow reading that is normal or your personal best

Your Asthma Control Plan

Our lung specialists follow current asthma guidelines to create a personalized asthma control plan.

A personalized asthma treatment plan can help:

  • Reduce airway inflammation and bronchoconstriction
  • Reduce the number of daytime and nighttime symptoms
  • Put you in control of your asthma management by equipping you with the tools, medication and information to help reduce symptoms
  • Prevent reduced lung growth (in children)
  • Prevent flare-ups, or exacerbations
  • Reduce the impact of asthma on your daily activities and improve your quality of life
  • Minimize the need for emergency care

Your personalized asthma control plan is based on the severity of your asthma symptoms. As you gain better control of your asthma (e.g., rate of flare-ups has reduced), your plan will be revised accordingly.

Regular Asthma Check-Ups

To ensure your therapy is aligned with your current asthma care needs, regular doctor visits are recommended.

During your visit, your doctor will review your asthma control, proper medication technique, your asthma control plan, and determine if your treatment needs to be adjusted.

If you find that you are using your medication more than the recommended amount and occurrence of asthma flare-ups has not reduced (asthma is poorly controlled) a lung function assessment (using spirometry) may also be performed at this time.

Monitoring Asthma at Home

Continual monitoring of asthma symptoms is important to maintaining control.

A peak flow meter is a simple, portable device that measures airway flow. Knowing when and how to use your peak flow meter can be helpful in managing symptoms and identifying early signs of an asthma attack.

Even after asthma is well controlled, it is important that you continue to monitor on a regular basis.

Picture of a woman using a peak flow meter.

Asthma Medicines

Understanding the differences in your medications and knowing how to take them correctly is an important part of managing asthma symptoms.

An asthma treatment plan typically consists of one quick-relief medicine and one or more long-term control medicines.

There are two primary groups of medications used to treat asthma:

Quick Relief Medicines

Also known as “rescue” medications, quick relief medications act quickly to widen the bronchial air passages (bronchodilation) to allow increased airflow in and out of the lungs. They are used during acute asthma attacks and to prevent exercise-induced asthma. The effect of quick-relief medications is immediate and can last up to four to six hours.

In cases of well-controlled asthma, quick-relief medications may be the only medication needed.

Quick-relief medicines include:

  • Albuterol (e.g., ProAir, Ventolin, Proventil)
  • Levalbuterol (e.g., Xopenox)
  • Ipratropium (e.g., Atrovent)
  • Combivent (combination of albuterol and ipratropium)

The most common quick-relief drug for treating asthma symptoms is short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs).

Long-Term Control Medicines

Long-term control medicines may be necessary to lessen severity of asthma symptoms and/or reduce the odds of having asthma attacks. Long-term control medicines are taken daily, even when you do not have symptoms. While you may not notice immediate relief, long-term control medicines reduce airway inflammation and keep air passages open.

The most effective control medicine is inhaled corticosteroids (ICSs), as they deliver drugs directly to the airways.

NOTE: You should only use oral corticosteroids under the guidance of a physician. Long-term use of steroids should be avoided if possible because of drug-related side effects (e.g., high blood pressure, thinning bones).

People who have allergic asthma (especially children) may benefit from leukotriene modifiers, anti-IgE therapy, and allergen and pollutant avoidance.

A good treatment plan is one that helps you achieve the best level of control possible. If you’re unable to manage asthma symptoms with your current medications, your asthma control plan should be reviewed and adjusted if needed.

Long-term control medicines include:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids: Budesonide (Pulmicort), beclomethasone (Qvar), mometasone (Asmanex), fluticasone (Flovent), flunisolide (AeroBid)
  • Long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs): Formoterol (Foradil), salmeterol (Serevent)
  • Long-acting cholinergics: Tiotropium (Spiriva)
  • Leukotriene modifiers: Montelukast (Singulair), zafirlukast, zileuton
  • Anti-IgE: Omalizumab (Xolair)
  • Allergy medications: Cetirizine (Zyrtec), fexofenadine (Allegra)
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots)
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays (for allergic rhinitis)
  • Chronic antibiotics (e.g., azithromycin)

Asthma Medicines Just Not Working?

Despite current guidelines, a customized asthma control plan, and the range of available treatments, over half of patients with asthma continue to suffer from poor asthma control. This has a significant impact on their quality of life.

Several new, promising therapies may play a significant role as add-on therapy in people who have moderate to severe asthma. These may be a good option for individuals who are not responsive to existing medications like leukotriene modifiers or inhaled steroids.

Lifestyle Changes for Better Asthma Control

People looking for natural remedies for asthma control may benefit from a healthy lifestyle.

Lifestyle modifications that may help with symptoms include:

  • Eating a well balanced diet
  • Quitting smoking and/or avoiding smoke exposure
  • Avoiding pollutants
  • Regularly practicing stress reducing techniques

Appointments & Referrals

Clinic Locations


La Jolla

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Asthma Specialists

Related Services

Recommended Asthma Guidelines

Read more about current asthma treatment guidelines from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Clinical Trials

Find out what asthma studies are currently underway at UC San Diego Health by calling 888-827-3247.