By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE
Asthma Inhalers: Inhaled corticosteroids help prevent asthma symptoms, protect lungs
My 5-year-old child has been diagnosed with asthma. She is using her albuterol inhaler three times a day. My doctor also wants her to use an inhaled corticosteroid. I really don’t want her to use these as I’ve heard bad things about them. Is it okay for her to use only the albuterol?
This is a very good question as I feel many people with asthma don’t realize the benefits of inhaled corticosteroids with asthma. Asthma is a chronic lung disease with two main components: inflammation-swelling and irritation of your airways and constriction- tightening of the muscles surrounding your airways.
When you’re exposed to a trigger (such as smoke, pets or pollen) the airways of your lungs become more inflamed and swollen, making it harder for you to breathe. The inside of your airways also gets smaller, due to a tightening of the muscles that surround them, such that breathing feels hard and more labored.
Inflammation and constriction together cause narrowing of the airways, which may result in symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath.
Asthma is a serious and chronic condition. The inflammation never goes away. Once you have asthma, you will always have it, even if you do not experience the symptoms for a long period of time. Symptoms can flare up at any time if you do not stick to your asthma treatment plan.
Acting ahead of time and following the instructions of your healthcare professional can help you prevent asthma symptoms, reduce the potential for serious lung damage, and allow you to get the most out of life.
Why worry about airway inflammation?
The long-term effects of airway inflammation include:
- Decreased breathing ability
- Increased asthma symptoms
- Increased hospitalizations
- Lung damage
Asthma is a serious, chronic and unpredictable disease. The fact is that asthma is always there even when you are not having symptoms. That’s why people with asthma should treat their inflammation preventatively by avoiding triggers and taking their medication regularly as prescribed.
So you ask are inhaled corticosteroids right for your daughter? The NIH states that inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective and preferred long-term therapy available for persistent asthma. Also called inhaled anti-inflammatory medications, ICS help reduce inflammation in the airways, which can improve lung function, prevent asthma symptoms, minimize reliance on a rescue inhaler and minimize the potential for long-term lung damage. The NIH states that ICS improve health outcomes for children with persistent asthma even down to age 5.
How do they work? ICS are very similar to a chemical that your body naturally produces to combat inflammation. They go directly to the airways of the lungs to help reduce swelling and irritation caused by undertreated, underlying inflammation. Because they go right where they are needed, there is less risk of the side effects that may occur with a pill) which goes throughout you body). To prevent coughing, wheezing, and other asthma symptoms, ICS should be taken every day even when you are not experiencing symptoms.
Finally, don’t confuse inhaled corticosteroids with anabolic steroids, which are misused by some athletes to increase muscle mass and improve performance. According to the National Institutes of Health, inhaled corticosteroids are the preferred and most effective long-term control medication for people who require rescue inhalers more than twice a week. Additionally, there is growing evidence that inhaled corticosteroids may also help prevent lung damage that may occur when asthma is left untreated. Please don’t stop your daughters inhaled corticosteroid. Talk to your healthcare provider if more information is needed.