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Follow Directions to Control Asthma Symptoms

By HERWriter
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Asthma related image Photo: Getty Images

People who are diagnosed with asthma often end up with multiple prescription medications to help control the disease and prevent attacks. These medications can be very effective if taken as directed.

But researchers at Henry Ford Hospital have shown that in many cases, patients don’t follow through on their medication schedule. Their research shows that as many as one-fourth of all severe asthma attacks could have been prevented if patients had followed the prescription instructions.

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that makes breathing difficult. During an asthma attack, the airways become inflamed and produce excess mucus which prevents air from flowing in and out of the lungs. At the same time, the muscles surrounding the airways can tighten and make airways smaller. A severe asthma attack can make breathing impossible and can be deadly.

Approximately 20 million Americans or 1 out of 15 people have asthma. While there is no cure for the disease, medications are available that can control most asthma symptoms for many people. Medications fall into two broad categories: controller medications which must be taken on a regular schedule to prevent flare-ups and rescue medications which are taken to control symptoms of an asthma attack.

Inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) medications are one type of controller medication for asthma. These drugs are used to prevent or reduce swelling in airways and cut down on mucus production in the lungs. They are different from anabolic steroids used to build muscle.

Inhaled corticosteroids are considered safe when taken as prescribed. ICS medication is considered to be one of the most effective treatments to control asthma symptoms and prevent serious attacks.

Researchers at Henry Ford tracked the use of ICS medications which were intended to be taken on a regular schedule, not as emergency or rescue treatments. They concluded that many patients take medications only when they have symptoms rather than following the prescription instructions even when they are symptom-free.

Study lead author Keoki Williams, MD, MPH said, “Our findings demonstrated a relationship between medication adherence and asthma events in a manner that accounts for the changing patterns of inhaler use over time.”

The research team followed 298 patients for an average of two years. During that time, the group had 435 asthma attacks. Based on their observations, the team concluded that taking ICS medications on an “as needed” basis was not enough to prevent asthma attacks. They also noted that a 25 percent increase in following the prescribed dosing instructions yielded an 11 percent decrease in asthma attacks.

They concluded that patients needed to follow ICS directions for at least 75 percent of the prescribed dose in order for asthma attacks to be significantly reduced. This is especially important for patients whose asthma is not well controlled even with prescription medications.

Dr Williams concluded, “Patients must use their asthma controller medication as prescribed if they want to have the best chance of preventing serious asthma attacks.”


Science Daily. Improved Medication use Could Reduce Severe Asthma Attacks. Web. December 12, 2011.

About.com: Allergies. What is Asthma. Daniel More, MD. Web. December 12, 2011.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma Overview. Web. December 12, 2011.

Reviewed December 13, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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