Asthma: Overuse of Quick-Relief Medicines

Asthma: Overuse of Quick-Relief Medicines

Topic Overview

Medicines for quick relief of the narrowed bronchial tubes caused by asthma include short-acting beta2-agonists. These medicines relieve sudden increases of symptoms ( asthma attacks ) quickly. But overuse may be harmful.

Overuse of short-acting beta2-agonists has been associated with worsening asthma and increased risk of death. 1 People who have severe asthma usually are the ones at greatest risk for illness and death from asthma. They may be taking higher doses of short-acting beta2-agonists to control their symptoms instead of increasing the use of anti-inflammatory medicine such as inhaled corticosteroids .

People who overuse short-acting beta2-agonists may feel their asthma is under control when, in fact, inflammation in the airways is becoming worse, putting them in danger of a severe, life-threatening attack ( status asthmaticus ).

Overuse:

  • May delay medical care and increase your chances of having a severe asthma attack that can be life-threatening.
  • Can decrease the future effectiveness of these medicines.
  • Treats the early narrowing of bronchial tubes without treating long-term inflammation.

In general, you may need more long-term treatment if you are using short-acting beta2-agonists on more than 2 days a week (except before exercise). Talk to your doctor if you are using your quick-relief medicine this often. Frequent use of quick-relief medicines may mean that your symptoms and inflammation are not well controlled.

References

Citations

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2007). Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.htm.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerJohn Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLora J. Stewart, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last RevisedMarch 14, 2013

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