Treatment
Pros
Cons
Avoiding triggers

Taking measures to avoid exposure to things that trigger your symptoms, such as allergies

  • Helps keep your symptoms under control
  • May mean you can reduce the amount of medication you need to take
  • Not always possible or practical

Inhalers

Reliever inhalers

Inhalers, which are usually blue, that contain short-acting medication to relax the muscles around the airways

  • Only need to be used as and when symptoms develop
  • Fast relief from asthma symptoms for up to one hour
  • Side effects are rare unless inhaler is over-used
  • Inhaler must be carried around at all times
  • High doses may lead to side effects that last for a few minutes, including mild shaking of the hands, headaches and muscle cramps
  • Doesn't prevent symptoms occurring and possibly getting worse
Preventer inhalers

Inhalers, which are usually brown or orange, that help reduce inflammation in the airways

  • Reduces how often you have symptoms and often gets rid of them completely for most of the time
  • Reduces (and hopefully avoids completely) the need to use a reliever inhaler
  • Should be used twice (or occasionally once) daily
  • Doesn't provide immediate relief from symptoms, so you may still need to use a reliever inhaler occasionally
  • Risk of side effects including oral thrush and a hoarse voice, although these can be minimised by using a spacer
Long-acting reliever inhalers

Inhalers that are similar to reliever inhalers, but work for a longer period of time

  • Relief from asthma symptoms lasts around 12 hours instead of four
  • Reduces the number of times you need to use an inhaler
  • Must be used daily and regularly
  • Risk of side effects, including a mild shaking of the hands, headache and muscle cramps
  • Must always be used with a preventer inhaler, as not doing so increases the risk of sudden and severe asthma attacks
Combination inhalers

Inhalers containing a combination of preventer medicine and a long-acting reliever

  • Relief from asthma symptoms lasts around 12 hours instead of four
  • Reduces how often you have symptoms
  • An easier way to take both reliever and preventer medication together
  • Need to be used every day as prescribed
  • Risk of side effects, including a mild shaking of the hands, headache and muscle cramps
  • Risk of further side effects, including a mild fungal infection of the mouth or throat and a hoarse voice

Other medications

Leukotriene receptor antagonists

Medicines that reduce inflammation in the airways

  • May help to reduce or prevent asthma symptoms
  • Side effects are uncommon
  • May also reduce symptoms of hay fever
  • Must be taken at least once daily, along with a preventer inhaler
  • Small risk of side effects including headaches and tummy (abdominal) pain
  • Of little or no benefit in some people
Theophyllines

Medicines that help widen the airways

  • May help to reduce symptoms of asthma
  • May reduce the amount of preventer medication you need to take
  • Must be taken twice daily
  • Regular blood tests needed to monitor levels of medication
  • Risk of side effects, including nausea, vomiting, tremors and noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
Steroid tablets

Powerful medicines that reduce inflammation in the airways

  • Fast and effective treatment for symptoms of asthma
  • Can be taken for a few days to bring severe symptoms under control
  • A longer course of tablets can be used in people with persistent severe asthma symptoms
  • Risk of side effects, including osteoporosis, high blood pressure and diabetes if used frequently or for a long time
  • You'll need regular appointments to check for side effects
Omalizumab (Xolair)

A newer type of medicine for asthma triggered by allergies

  • May help to reduce the chance of unexpected, severe asthma attacks in some people with allergy-related asthma
  • May reduce or avoid the need for steroid tablets in some people with  poorly controlled allergy-related asthma
  • Only suitable for people with allergy-related asthma who have poorly controlled symptoms despite trying other treatments
  • Can only be prescribed in a specialist centre
  • Given by injection, which will need to be done at a hospital clinic every two or four weeks
Mepolizumab (Nucala)

A newer type of medicine that can help control severe asthma in some people

  • Can help reduce the frequency of asthma attacks if other treatments aren’t helping
  • Can help keep general asthma symptoms under control and reduce the need to take steroid tablets
  • Only suitable for some people with severe, difficult to treat asthma that's associated with a high number of eosinophils (a type of white blood cell)
  • Can only be prescribed by a specialist
  • Given by injection, which must be done at a hospital clinic, every four weeks
  • Common side effects include headaches, back pain and pain or swelling where the injection is given

Surgery and procedures

Bronchial thermoplasty

A procedure that reduces the ability for the airways to narrow by using heat to damage the muscles around the airways.

  • Some evidence that it may reduce asthma attacks and improve the quality of life of some people with severe asthma
  • Three treatment sessions are usually needed, with at least three weeks between each session
  • Long-term risks and benefits are not yet fully known
  • Occasionally causes a sudden asthma attack and other complications which may require hospital admission

Complementary therapies

Breathing exercises

Exercises taught by a physiotherapist, or a technique called the Buteyko method

  • Some evidence they can improve asthma symptoms
  • May help reduce the need to use a reliever inhaler
  • No risk of side effects
  • Other treatments will still be needed 
Other complementary therapies

Therapies such as herbal medicines, acupuncture and homeopathy

  • Some people claim to find them helpful
  • No strong scientific evidence to suggest they work for asthma
  • May cause side effects