The dramatic symptoms of asthma including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing are caused by three events in the airways:
- the lining of the airways beginning to swell
- mucus being secreted
- the muscles that surround the airway going into spasm
There are two types of asthma inhalers called bronchodilators that counteract all three of these events and open (dilate) your airways (bronchi).
Sometimes called preventers, these inhalers are used every day to reduce inflammation. If you have been diagnosed with asthma, your airways will always be more swollen than those of somebody without the condition. By using an asthma controller each morning and evening, you can reduce that baseline swelling in your airways. If you now come across an asthma trigger causing your airways to swell even more, the resulting inflammation will not be as severe. Controller inhalers can also make you less reactive to those triggers.
The most effective controller inhalers use low doses of steroids called corticosteroids. They should be used every day even if you are feeling well; otherwise the asthma symptoms can come back. There also exist combination inhalers which include steroid prevention medication along with a long-lasting reliever medication.
These emergency inhalers are often referred to as rescue inhalers. They are to be used only when you feel your airways tighten and it is hard to breathe. Your symptoms will go away fast and you will feel instant relief. These inhalers work by relaxing the muscles around the airways making the airways wider. They do not however, have an effect on inflammation or build up of mucus; so you must continue to take your controller medication for those. You can use a rescue inhaler up to four times a day until your symptoms subside. You may also be advised by your doctor to use the inhaler before sports or other activities.
Of the more popular types of inhalers are MDI's, or metered dose inhalers. The medicine is in the form of a mist and comes out when you press down the inhaler. You may want to use a spacer, sometimes referred to as a holding chamber with your metered device which enables the medicine to reach deep into your airways with less remaining in your mouth. A spacer helps reduce the risk of side effects of bronchodilators including hoarseness or irritation of the throat or tongue.
Controller and reliever inhalers work the same way though the medicine inside is for different purposes. To make distinguishing between the two easier, rescue inhalers are blue while controller inhalers come most often in orange and brown but are available in purple and red.
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