Mast cell stabilizers for long-term control of asthma


Generic Name

Cromolyn is used with a metered-dose inhaler or a nebulizer. Inhalers may be used differently, depending on the medicine used. Always consult the directions to be sure you are using the inhaler correctly.

How It Works

Mast cells are found throughout the body, including in the airways in the lungs. They can release substances that result in inflammation, causing the symptoms of asthma. Mast cell stabilizers prevent the mast cells from releasing the substances that cause inflammation. This may reduce asthma symptoms.

Why It Is Used

Cromolyn may be used to treat mild persistent asthma. It also can be used to prevent asthma symptoms during exercise and before exposure to a substance that may trigger an asthma attack. Mast cell stabilizers are not as effective as inhaled corticosteroids, which are now the recommended treatment.1

Different types of medicines are often used together in the treatment of asthma. Medicine treatment for asthma depends on a person’s age, his or her type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling asthma symptoms.

  • Children up to age 4 are usually treated a little differently than those 5 to 11 years old.
  • The least amount of medicine that controls the asthma symptoms is used.
  • The amount of medicine and number of medicines are increased in steps. So if asthma is not controlled at a low dose of one controller medicine, the dose may be increased. Or another medicine may be added.
  • If the asthma has been under control for several months at a certain dose of medicine, the dose may be reduced. This can help find the least amount of medicine that will control the asthma.
  • Quick-relief medicine is used to treat asthma attacks. But if you or your child needs to use quick-relief medicine a lot, the amount and number of controller medicines may be changed.

Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and dose of medicines that work best.

How Well It Works

Cromolyn reduces asthma symptoms, improves morning peak expiratory flow, and decreases the need for short-acting beta2-agonists.1 But it is not as effective as inhaled corticosteroids.1

Side Effects

Cromolyn has few side effects, making it a reasonable choice for long-term treatment. Throat irritation and coughing or skin rashes sometimes can occur with cromolyn treatment. Cromolyn also may cause nausea, vomiting, fullness after eating, heartburn, or abdominal pain.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Mast cell stabilizers usually do not relieve symptoms in people who have moderate to severe persistent asthma. They are not used to treat asthma attacks.

Cromolyn has been approved for use in children age 5 and older. It must be inhaled 3 or 4 times a day and may take longer than 2 weeks to take effect.

Sometimes doctors recommend the use of a spacer with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The spacer is attached to the MDI. A spacer may deliver the medicine to your lungs better than an inhaler alone. And for many people it is easier to use than an MDI alone.

Try to avoid giving your child an inhaled medicine when he or she is crying, because not as much medicine is delivered to the lungs.

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  1. National Institutes of Health (2007). National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma (NIH Publication No. 08–5846). Available online:

Last Updated: April 21, 2009

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