Inhaled steroids, also called inhaled corticosteroids, are considered to be the most effective medications for controlling asthma when taken regularly. They work continuously to reduce swelling of the airways.
It can take weeks for an inhaled corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation in your airways, so be patient. The longer you are using it, the less you will need to use your reliever medication, since your asthma will be better controlled. Inhaled corticosteroids are not for the relief of sudden-onset asthma symptoms.
When you are feeling better, do not stop taking the inhaled corticosteroid. Instead, talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting the dose. The inhaled corticosteroid is keeping your asthma under control. If you stop taking it, the inflammation and your symptoms will return.
The common side effects of inhaled corticosteroids are hoarse voice, sore throat, and a mild throat infection called thrush (yeast infection). Sore throat and thrush are commonly caused by poor puffer technique. Show your healthcare provider how you use your puffer. Rinsing out your mouth with water after every dose of inhaled corticosteroids will also help reduce these side effects. If you are using a pressurized MDI (pMDI) inhaled steroid, then doctors recommend the use of a spacer device, especially for children. A spacer slows down the delivery of the aerosol droplets that carry the medicine, making delivery even better targeted to get into the airways. Remember, spacers should not be used with dry-powered devices such as the DISKUS® or Turbuhaler®.
Doctors generally prescribe inhaled corticosteriods over oral (tablet or liquid) corticosteroids, because the inhaled medication is more targeted. In other words, when it’s inhaled, medication goes directly into the lungs where it’s needed. Unlike oral medicines, inhaled steroids do not have to pass through other parts of the body where they’re not needed, and as a result are less likely to cause unwanted side effects.
Most people with asthma achieve good control with a corticosteroid inhaler. Inability to achieve good control with a corticosteroid inhaler should raise a red flag, and your asthma should be reassessed.
There are a number of misconceptions about inhaled corticosteroids. For example, some people mistakenly believe that they are the same as the anabolic steroids that are sometimes abused by athletes. Learn more below.
Frequently Asked Questions About Steroids
[su_spoiler title=”What are steroids?”]Some athletes misuse anabolic steroids to build muscle. Corticosteroids are the steroids used to treat asthma. Corticosteroids do not build muscle or enhance performance. Corticosteroids are hormones that your body naturally produces. When your doctor prescribes an inhaled corticosteroid, they are giving a very small amount of this same hormone, to reduce the inflammation in the airways. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Will corticosteroids used to treat asthma cause dangerous side effects?”] The corticosteroids that are inhaled to treat asthma today are considered safe. This is because the medicine, which is breathed in through a puffer, goes directly into the lungs where it reduces inflammation in the airways. A steroid tablet that is swallowed has more side effects because a large amount goes into the blood stream and is carried to other parts of the body. Side effects from inhaled corticosteroids are minor when the proper amount is taken. A few people get a cough, hoarseness or husky voice, sore throat or thrush (a yeast infection). Patients can protect against these discomforts by rinsing their mouth, gargling with water and spitting out, to remove any medicine left in the mouth. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”Who should take an inhaled corticosteroid?”]Everyone with asthma, even mild asthma, benefits from regular use of inhaled corticosteroids. Canada’s Asthma Control Guidelines, developed by Canada’s leading asthma doctors, recommend the use of inhaled corticosteroids to reduce airway inflammation and get symptoms under control. When used regularly, inhaled corticosteroids reduce inflammation and mucous in the airways, making the lungs less sensitive to triggers. They are also the best defence against possible long-term lung damage. Your doctor will probably prescribe an inhaled corticosteroid as part of your long-term treatment of asthma. If you have had asthma for some time and it is poorly controlled, your doctor will probably want to add a corticosteroid if you aren’t already using one. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”How do I know that inhaled corticosteroids won’t cause health problems in the longer term? “]As with any medicine, doctors and patients must weigh the possible risks of taking medicine against the effects of not taking the medicine to decide what is best. Low amounts of inhaled steroids are generally considered to be the best option and are used by many people for asthma control. [/su_spoiler]
[su_spoiler title=”I do not feel comfortable taking inhaled steroids every day. Can I stop?”]When your asthma is under control talk to your doctor about adjusting the dose of your medications. Do not stop taking your controller medications. If you do, the airway inflammation may return.
Inhaled corticosteroids are the best option for treating asthma and should be used on a regular basis.