Side Effects At a Glance: Asthma Meds

Two types of medications are used to treat asthma: quick-relief medications to stop symptoms, and long-term medications to prevent them.

Quick-Relief Medications:

There are 3 types of quick-relief medicines. Because they are all stimulants, any of the quick-reliefs can cause anxiety, tremors, restlessness, headache and a fast or irregular heartbeat. Uncontrollable shaking and heart problems should be immediately reported to your doctor.

Emergency inhalers/Oral or inhaled steroids, such as prednisone, Asmonex, Alvesco, Flovent, Pulmicort, and Qvar.

Anticholnergics, such as Spiriva, Oxivent, or Atrovent

Short-acting beta-agonists, such as albuterol.

Side effects of albuterol can include: nervousness, headache, nausea, vomiting, cough, throat irritation, and muscle, bone, or back pain. More serious side effects require you to call your doctor immediately. They can include: fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, rash, hives, itching, swelling (of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs), increased difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, or hoarseness.

Long-Term Medications

Anti-IgE, such as Xolaire. Side effects include reaction at injection site, upper respiratory infections, sinusitis, headache, and sore throat. Some patients can experience a severe allergic reaction, anaphalaxis. If you have had any allergic reaction to past Xolaire injections, you should not use this medication. Also, an increased incidence of cancer has been reported in adults who use Xolaire.

Combination medications, which contain both an inhaled steroid and a long-acting beta agonist. Some brand names are: Advair, Dulera, and Symbicort. Side effects include: runny nose, sneezing, sore or irritated throat, sinus pain, headache, nausea or vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, muscle and bone pain, dizziness, weakness, tiredness, sweating, tooth pain, red or dry eyes, tremor, and sleep problems.

Contact your doctor if you experience more severe side effects, including: coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness that begins soon after you inhale fluticasone (an anti-inflammatory nasal spray) and salmeterol (a long-acting beta-androceptor agonist), hives, rash, swelling (of the face, throat, tongue, lips, hands, feet, ankles or lower legs) choking or difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, noisy, high-pitched breathing, pounding, fast or irregular heartbeat, fainting, chest pain, cough, burning or tingling of the hands or feet, blurred vision, white patches in the mouth, or fever, chills and other signs of infection.

Leukotriene modifiers, such as Accolate, Singulair, or Zyflo, can interact with other medications. Discuss with your doctor. Other side effects can include: headache, dizziness, heartburn, stomach pain, or fatiguetiredness.

Some side effects can be serious. If you experience any of the following symptoms — or have any other concerns — call your doctor immediately: difficulty breathing or swallowing, swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs, hoarseness, itching, rash, hives, fever, flu-like symptoms, pins and needles or numbness in the arms or legs, or pain and swelling of the sinuses.

Theophylline is less commonly prescribed due to greater side effects. They include: difficulty sleeping, stomach upset, headache, insomnia and irritability.

If you experience any of these more serious side effects, call your doctor immediately: vomiting, increased or rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, seizures, or skin rash.

Allergy Shots: If your triggers are allergic, your doctor may recommend allergy shots to reduce your sensitivity. This usually involves a series of shots given during several visits over a period of three to five years. Most common side effects of allergy shots are mild, including redness or swelling at the site of the injection, and mild nasal stuffiness or runny nose. Rarely, a severe allergic reaction, anaphyalaxis, may occur. To protect against this, you may be asked to stay in your doctor’s office for 30 minutes following an injection or to take an antihistamine right before your appointment.

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