Controller medications are drugs that are taken to control symptoms of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) on a long-term basis. While rescue medications are used only as needed to help with symptoms that become worse suddenly, controller medications are taken daily, regardless of whether you are experiencing symptoms. The goal of controller medications is to prevent symptoms of asthma and COPD, rather than treat symptoms when they occur.
There are several different types of controller medications, including:
- Inhaled corticosteroids: reduce inflammation to help prevent asthma symptoms. These medicines are inhaled directly into the lungs using an inhaler. They work by preventing swelling in the airways. They are generally safe when you take them exactly as prescribed. However, inhaled corticosteroids can cause side effects. The most common side effect is an infection of the mouth called thrush. You can help to prevent this by rinsing your mouth with water after taking the medication. When taken for long periods of time, inhaled corticosteroids can raise your risk for osteoporosis (weakening of the bones) and cataracts (clouding of the lens of your eye)
- Inhaled long-acting beta2 agonists (LABAs): are drugs that open the airways. Beta-agonists activate receptors called beta-2 receptors on the muscles surrounding the airways in the lungs. Activation of the beta-2 receptors causes the muscles surrounding the lungs to relax, which causes the airways to open. LABAs should not be used for long-term asthma control on their own; they should be combined with inhaled corticosteroids
- Cromolyn: helps prevent inflammation of the airways. Cromolyn is taken using a nebulizer device, which sends very fine particles of medication into the lungs when inhaled.
- Combination inhalers: combine a long-acting beta agonist with a corticosteroid to help manage asthma symptoms
- Leukotriene modifiers: help prevent the chain reaction that increases inflammation in the airways. Leukotriene modifiers come in pill and tablet form and are taken by mouth.
- Theophylline: helps to open the airways by causing the surrounding muscles to relax. Theophylline comes in pill form and is taken by mouth.