Overuse of quick-relief medicine for asthma

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 with 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, which may result in permanent scarring.

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.

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.

Last Updated: March 20, 2009

Author: Maria G. Essig, MS, ELS

Medical Review: Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics & Harold S. Nelson, MD - Allergy and Immunology

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