FDA Safety Alerts

Published as part of a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Partnership


Manage your asthma: Know your triggers and treatment options

Asthma is a chronic lung condition that affects millions of Americans of all ages. It causes the airways in the lungs to become irritated and narrow, making it difficult for the person to breathe. An asthma attack can result in severe coughing, wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), chest tightness, and shortness of breath. There is no cure for asthma and, most of the time, the causes are unknown.

It is important to work with your healthcare provider, such as an allergist or pulmonologist (lung specialist), to develop an asthma action plan to help reduce the number and severity of asthma attacks you have. The action plan will help you determine what triggers an asthma attack for you. Some common triggers include:

  • Tobacco smoke
  • Dust mites
  • Air pollution
  • Cockroaches
  • Pet dander
  • Plant pollen
  • Mold
  • Infections
  • Exercise
  • Strong scents (such as perfumes)

You may be prescribed medicines that can be used to control your asthma or treat symptoms of an asthma attack. Not everyone has the same symptoms so different medicines may be needed. If left untreated, long-term lung damage may occur as well as life-threatening attacks that may require emergency care or hospitalization.

Most medicines used to treat asthma are inhaled medicines that are prescribed by a healthcare provider. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, Primatene Mist* (epinephrine inhalation aerosol), to treat symptoms of a mild, intermittent asthma attack. However, it is important to ask your healthcare provider if this medicine would be safe for you to use to treat your asthma. Also, Primatene Mist is only approved for people 12 years of age and older. It is not known if it works or is safe for a child 12 or younger.

Here’s what you can do: If you, a family member, or a friend are diagnosed with asthma, talk to your healthcare provider about your treatment options. Develop an action plan that lists the common triggers that make your asthma symptoms worse and try to avoid those triggers. With your healthcare provider, outline a plan to treat your asthma both long-term and when you have an attack. Learn what medicines you can use and when and how to use them. Do not take any OTC medicine (including Primatene Mist) without talking to your healthcare provider first.

*Primatene Mist was taken off the market in 2011 as part of the 1989 Montreal Protocol of Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the Clean Air Act of 1990 because of environmental concerns (it contained a chlorofluorocarbon [CFC] propellant). The new product contains hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) propellants that are permitted under current international and US laws.

Advice from FDA is a feature brought to you by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Find this article and more on FDA’s Consumer Health Information website at: www.ismp.org/ext/152. This website features updates on medicines regulated by the FDA. Sign up for free email updates at:  http://go.fda.gov/subscriptionmanagement.

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