What medicines are used to treat asthma?

Use of medicines is the mainstay of asthma management.

In 2011–12 based on self-reported survey data, 43% of Australians with asthma had taken a respiratory medicine in the last 2 weeks [1]. These medicines may have been used to treat asthma or another respiratory condition, as most of the medicines used for asthma are also used for patients with other chronic lung diseases, in particular chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The overall goals of using medications to treat asthma are to:

  • improve the quality of life
  • minimise symptoms, such as breathlessness and wheezing
  • minimise the risk of adverse outcomes due to asthma, such as flare-ups.

Different asthma medicines are used to achieve these goals, as follows:

  • Relievers are medicines used for the rapid relief of asthma symptoms when they occur. They can also be used before exercise, to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (constriction of the airways).
  • Preventers are medicines used every day in asthma control to minimise symptoms and reduce the likelihood of episodes or flare-ups. Inhaled corticosteroids are the most commonly used preventers. Some asthma medicines include both a preventer and a long-acting reliever in a single inhaler.
  • Other medicines are occasionally used to manage asthma in specific circumstances, for example for management of difficult-to-treat asthma or as add-on options for management of severe asthma flare-ups.

There are clinical guidelines to help doctors and patients to best manage asthma. These guidelines include recommendations for effective use of medications.

For more detailed information about medicines used to treat asthma, refer to the Australian Asthma Handbook, Version 1.2, which provides Australia’s national guidelines for asthma management [4], Respiratory medication use in Australia 2003–2013: treatment of asthma and COPD [3], and Asthma in Australia 2011 [2].


  1. ABS 2013. Australian Health Survey: Health Service Usage and Health Related Actions, 2011-12. Table 7: Asthma: Actions and medications taken. ABS Cat. no. 4364.0.55.002 Canberra: ABS.
  2. Australian Centre for Airways disease Monitoring (ACAM) 2011. Asthma in Australia 2011: with a focus chapter on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. AIHW Asthma Series no. 4. Cat. no. ACM 22. Canberra: AIHW.
  3. AIHW: Correll PK, Poulos LM, Ampon R, Reddel HK & Marks GB 2015. Respiratory medication use in Australia 2003–2013: treatment of asthma and COPD. Cat. no. ACM 31. Canberra: AIHW.
  4. National Asthma Council Australia 2016. Australian Asthma Handbook, Version 1.2. National Asthma Council Australia, Melbourne.