Question: What are some of the specific medicines used to treat asthma and what are their side effects?
Answer: Well, there are a number of different classes of medicine that are used to treat asthma, and each one has its own potential for side effects. We should stress, however, that overall asthma medicines are quite safe, and side effects are uncommon.
The most effective drug for asthma is the inhaled corticosteroid. Since this is inhaled into the lungs, there's very little effect on the body as a whole, but there can be some hoarseness engendered, and there are ways to deal with this if it should occur.
The second most effective drugs in asthma, and ones that most patients have, are called beta agonists. And these are short-acting, that are used to relieve symptoms or long-acting, that are used to prevent symptoms. Again, side effects are very uncommon with these, but occasional patients will get some jitteriness, shakiness or palpitation because of increased heart rate. Leukotriene receptor and antagonist drugs are generally free of side effects, although there are some which have a potential for affecting the liver and do require blood test to check for that periodically.
The anti-cholinergic drugs are bronchodilators and are quite free of side effects. Unfortunately, they're not quite as effective as the beta agonists. Theophylline was used a great deal in the past; it's used very little today because it frequently causes upset stomach or headaches. The one asthma medicine that has the most potential for side effects are the oral steroids, and, therefore, they're used only to treat short term for exacerbations of asthma.