How do Corticosteroids Help Asthma?
Inhaled corticosteroids are the most effective treatment for asthma. Several types of inhalers help treat asthma and include metered-dose inhalers, metered-dose inhalers with a spacer, and dry powder inhalers. Nebulizers are also used for the treatment of asthma, but are for patients who have trouble using inhalers, such as infants and children. These devices contain chemicals – corticosteroids or glucocorticosteroids – that help prevent and treat inflammation of the airways.
When an asthma attack occurs, the airways of the lungs become inflamed and increase the production of mucus. When irritants (both environmental and non-environmental) enter the lungs, the body’s immune response is to generate to produce chemicals that cause inflammation. These chemicals mediate more immunity cells to the area, which contribute to even more inflammation and mucus production. Corticosteroids work by reducing inflammation in the lungs and suppressing the immunity cells that release the chemicals responsible for inflammation (Beltina Encyclopedia of Health). By suppressing the immunity cells, chemicals that cause inflammation – histamine and leukotriene – are no longer produced and other immunity cells are not recruited to the airways.
Although it may be a burden to take corticosteroids every day, the long term effects are very beneficial, and it is usually about 2 weeks before the patient has noticed their symptoms subsiding. Corticosteroids contribute to the reduction of symptoms long-term if taken every day (Partners Healthcare Asthma Center, 2012). Side effects of long-term use may include slight delay in growth (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2012).
Corticosteroids help control asthma and this can allow the patient to engage in activities they were not able to before, improving their overall quality of life. Corticosteroids won’t cure asthma, but they are a very effective treatment for relief of symptoms and prevention of asthma attacks.
If patients wish to seek alternative medications, there are several treatments available. Other inhaled medications include long-acting beta agonists, short-acting beta agonists, and leukotriene modifiers. Allergy shots are also an option. Side effects of these medications include mouth and throat irritation, and oral yeast infections. For metered dose inhalers it is recommended a spacer is used and that the patient rinse their mouth with water after each use to reduce the amount of drug absorbed into the body (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2012).
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2012, August 10). Asthma. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/asthma-medications/AP00008
- Beltina Encyclopedia of Health. (n.d.). Corticosteroid medications - side effects and risks. Retrieved from http://www.beltina.org/health-dictionary/corticosteroid-medications-side-effects-risk.html