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Asthma health centre

Long-acting inhalers and a steroid inhaler to prevent symptoms

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have asthma. It tells you about long-acting inhalers used together with a steroid inhaler, a treatment used to prevent symptoms of asthma. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Do they work?

Yes. If you use a steroid inhaler, but you still have breathing problems, you can use a long-acting inhaler as well. Drugs in these inhalers are called long-acting beta-2 agonists. Using both inhalers should help control your asthma better so that you don't get symptoms as often.

Using the two inhalers works better than increasing the dose of steroid that you're taking.

It's important to use your long-acting inhaler together with your steroid inhaler. Don't use your long-acting inhaler on its own, as this can be dangerous.

What are they?

Long-acting inhalers are drugs that help you breathe. They start working in 15 minutes to 30 minutes. And they work for up to 12 hours.

You'll also have a quick-relief inhaler to treat asthma symptoms as they happen. Quick-relief inhalers work fast, but the effects only last for three to four hours. So you'll need to use your quick-relief inhaler to treat symptoms when you get them. And you'll use your long-acting inhaler and your steroid inhaler regularly to prevent asthma symptoms.

To learn more, see Treating your asthma from day to day.

There are two common types of long-acting beta-2 agonist inhaler:

Long-acting beta-2 agonists aren't usually used on their own. They are used as an extra treatment if you're already using a steroid inhaler. Steroids are a type of anti-inflammatory drug. They reduce the amount of swelling in your air passages. This should prevent you getting symptoms.

Steroids used to treat asthma are not the same as the steroids that athletes and bodybuilders use to build up muscle. The full name for steroids used in asthma is corticosteroids. Your body makes corticosteroids naturally.

Here are the different types of steroid inhaler (with their brand names):

Most people take steroids at least twice a day. This should prevent your air passages from becoming narrower (inflamed). The dose you take will depend on which drug you're taking. Your doctor or nurse will tell you which dose is right for you.

Inhalers are a way of breathing in your medicine. The drug is stored in a small aerosol can attached to a mouthpiece. When you breathe in, some of the drug is released as a spray or a powder. Taking the drug this way means it gets straight to your lungs.

You'll probably use a metered-dose inhaler (or MDI for short). You press down the aerosol can to release a dose of the drug while you breathe in. To learn more, see How to use an inhaler.

If you find it difficult to use your inhaler, you might want to try another type of inhaler. Your doctor will be able to explain the different kinds.

Or you may need to use special equipment to help you breathe the drugs in. To learn more, see Spacers and nebulisers.

You can get single inhalers that combine steroids and a long-acting beta-2 agonist. For example, Seretide contains salmeterol and fluticasone, and Symbicort contains formoterol and budesonide. But you shouldn't use an inhaler with a combination of drugs when you first start treatment for asthma.

Last Updated: March 13, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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