Common concerns about medicines

Lots of people worry about taking medicines for their asthma. But if worries about your asthma medicines stop you taking them you could be at risk of an asthma attack.

To help put your mind at ease, we respond to some of your most common concerns:

You can also find information on:

I hate taking medicine for a long-term condition

Ask your GP, asthma nurse, or pharmacist, to run through all the benefits of your asthma medicines and how they work, to help you feel clear about you why you need to take them.

You can also talk about any side effects you’re worried about and how to cut your risk of getting them. Weighing up the pros and cons can help you find a positive way forward.

Sometimes it helps to think about what might happen if you don’t take your medicines – such as breathlessness, wheezing, or coughing at night. Not taking your medicines might mean not feeling well enough to see friends, or missing work if you have an asthma attack.

I don’t understand why I need asthma medicine if I’m feeling well

Even if you feel well you still need to take your preventer inhaler as prescribed. Basically, your preventer medicine works away in the background, so you can get on with all the things you want to do without asthma symptoms getting in the way. 

If you take your preventer inhaler every day, you’ll be less likely to react to your usual asthma triggers – which means fewer asthma symptoms. It also means you’re less likely to need to use your reliever inhaler.

It might feel like you’re taking medicines unnecessarily, but with asthma it’s so important to keep taking your preventer medicine so you can stay well.

And actually, maybe you’re feeling well because your preventer medicine is working

I’m concerned about taking steroids for asthma

A lot of people worry about taking steroids, so you’re not alone. It’s important to remember that the steroids used to treat asthma are completely different to the anabolic steroids used by bodybuilders. They are corticosteroids, which are a copy of substances the body makes naturally.

The preventer inhaler you take every day contains a low dose of steroids. If you’re taking it in the right way, using a good technique, the medicine will get straight to your airways. This means it’s less likely to cause any side effects and very little medicine is absorbed into the rest of your body.

If you’ve been prescribed a higher dose of steroids – either in an inhaler or in tablet form – this is because you need extra help to deal with your asthma symptoms. Talk to your GP about possible side effects.

You might need a course of steroid tablets alongside your usual inhalers. These are usually only prescribed short term, until you’ve fully recovered from a flare up of your asthma symptoms.

The key thing is that steroids are an effective treatment and they’ll only be prescribed if your GP or asthma nurse thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.

It’s also worth remembering that your GP or asthma nurse will only ever prescribe the lowest possible dose to keep you well.

If you’re concerned about any steroids you’ve been prescribed, speak to your GP or asthma nurse. Or call an asthma nurse specialists on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm).

If you’re worried about giving your child steroids, you can find some reassuring information here.

And if you’re taking steroid tablets for severe asthma, visit our page on using steroids in the long term.

I’m worried about future side effects from taking asthma medicines

Think about what worries you. But also think about the benefits of taking your asthma medicines, like having fewer symptoms, or feeling well enough to exercise or socialise. Sometimes it’s helpful to weigh up the pros and cons.

Just because you've experienced side effects from other medicines, or you've read comments on chatrooms or in the media about others having side effects does not mean you're going to get them.

Everyone is different and reacts differently to their medicines. The key thing is don’t just stop taking your medicines. Talk through your concerns with your GP, hospital doctor or asthma nurse – or you could speak to your pharmacist. 

I don’t like the side effects I’m getting now from my asthma medicines

If you think you’re getting side effects from a medicine, talk to your GP or asthma nurse about them as soon as possible.

There could be a simple way to reduce or treat the side effect, so you can carry on taking the medicine and getting the benefits for your asthma. If this isn’t possible, there may be an alternative asthma medicine you can try.

It’s important to weigh up the good things your medicine is doing for you against the side effects you don’t like.

Your GP or asthma nurse can help you understand the benefits of the medicines you’re taking. You can also speak to an asthma specialist nurse on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Mon – Fri; 9am – 5pm).

I don't like the hassle of taking asthma medicines

“Some people find having to take inhalers can get in the way of life,” says Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline.

“If that’s the case for you, or for your child, talk to your GP or asthma nurse. For example, if it’s a struggle to give your child their inhaler, your GP or asthma nurse might be able to suggest some techniques to take the stress out of it.

"Or, if it’s more that you find it inconvenient to take medicine twice a day, your GP or asthma nurse might be able to prescribe a medicine you take just once a day, as long as your asthma’s well managed.”

I’m embarrassed to use asthma inhalers

If you’re self-conscious about using inhalers in front of people, Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline, suggests asking your GP or asthma nurse if there’s another kind of inhaler you could use instead, perhaps one you prefer the look of.

And remember, if you use your preventer inhaler regularly you’re less likely to need your reliever inhaler anyway.

Surely one asthma inhaler is enough?

If you’re on the SMART/MART regime you may have just one inhaler combining both a preventer and reliever.

But if you’re not on one of those regimes most people benefit from two asthma inhalers:

  • a reliever inhaler (usually blue). This works quickly to relax your airways, making breathing easier. You use a reliever inhaler only when your symptoms come on. Reliever inhalers are essential in treating asthma attacks because they work so fast – you should keep yours (and your spacer if you have one) with you all the time.
  • a preventer inhaler to use every day whether you have symptoms or not. Your preventer inhaler controls the inflammation and swelling in your airways. This longer-term protection means you’ll be less likely to react to your triggers and have to deal with asthma symptoms. It will also cut your risk of an asthma attack. And if you take your preventer inhaler as prescribed you’ll need to use your reliever inhaler less often.

Why do I need to take a preventer tablet as well as my preventer inhaler?

If you’ve been prescribed a preventer tablet (Leukotriene Receptor Antagonist) it’s because your GP thinks you will benefit from some extra help with your asthma symptoms.

LTRAs are recommended as an add-on asthma treatment to help with asthma symptoms when your preventer inhaler alone doesn’t seem to be helping enough.

They relax the airways in your lungs to make breathing easier and to help prevent asthma attacks. They also reduce your body's response to allergens (substances that cause you to have an allergic reaction) and to certain situations which trigger asthma attacks (for example, exercise).

It’s important to keep taking your preventer inhaler as prescribed alongside the tablet.

Whenever your GP makes a change to your usual prescription you should get another appointment four to eight weeks later to check the new medicines are working well for you.

It’s helpful to go for regular asthma reviews so you can be sure you’re taking the right medicine for you. Sometimes, if your asthma is well managed, your GP might be able to reduce the medicines you take for your asthma.

I’m worried about taking my asthma inhalers with other medicines

Some medicines, when taken together, may interact with each other – this means one medicine may affect how the other one works. Or if one medicine is taken with another medicine it may increase the risk of side effects.

For example, some types of beta-blockers, given to help conditions such as high blood pressure, may interact with asthma medicines.

So if you’re on other prescribed medicine, your GP will monitor you and decide whether the benefits of taking both medicines outweigh the risks, or whether it’s better to consider an alternative.

If you need to take other medicines as well as your asthma medicine you should always talk to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist first even if it’s just an over-the-counter medicine or any complementary treatments, such as herbal or homeopathic remedies.

I don’t think I’m using my asthma inhaler properly

It’s very common to have problems but it’s important to make sure you’re using your inhaler properly so you’re getting all the benefits from your medicine.

You should ask your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist to check your inhaler technique. They might suggest you try using a different type of device that’s right for you or may give you a spacer.

I'm worried my preventer inhaler doesn’t work

When you first start taking your preventer inhaler you won’t notice much difference; most preventer medicines take a few weeks to see the benefit. But it’s important to stick with it.

Rather than treating immediate symptoms it works away in the background, helping to calm your airways. Soon you’ll notice you’re not reacting to your triggers as much. Taking your preventer inhaler every day, as prescribed, cuts down how often you need to use your reliever inhaler.

“You might even try asking your partner, friends or family if they've noticed the benefits from your medicine – sometimes the people around us see more positive or negative changes than we can see for ourselves,” says Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline.

You also need to make sure you’re taking it in the right way. If you’re not sure speak to your GP or asthma nurse and ask them to show you the best inhaler technique.

I'm worried my medicine will stop working if I keep taking it

This doesn’t happen with the preventer inhaler – in fact, you need to take it every day so its protective effects can build up.

Remember: the reliever inhaler is just to relieve symptoms. It’s very important you use it whenever you need to, but if you’re using it three times a week or more, speak to your GP or asthma nurse as it may mean you’re at risk of an asthma attack.

Also, using your reliever inhaler regularly could mean that your body starts to get used to the reliever medicine and you need higher doses for it to work. 

I don’t think I’m on the right asthma treatment

“It’s important you feel able to talk openly with your healthcare professional if you’re unsure they’ve given you the right medicine,” says Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline.

"If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your treatment concerns with your GP, see if you can speak to a different GP, or to your asthma nurse. You could also speak to a pharmacist – remember, they're experts on medicines too."

If you’re getting more asthma symptoms even though you’re taking your preventer inhaler every day ask your GP to review your medicines. And also ask them to check your inhaler technique.

You can also speak to an asthma nurse specialist on our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am – 5pm; Mon - Fri).

I think my asthma medicine isn’t worth the expense

If you’re struggling with the costs of your medicine, pre-payment certificates can save you money.

Remember, your preventer medicine works in the long term to lower your risk of having an asthma attack – so you should take it even when you feel well.

If you take your preventer inhaler regularly, it should reduce your need for the reliever inhaler. 

I’d rather take a lower dose

Your GP, asthma nurse or hospital doctor has decided on the right dose of medicine to help keep your symptoms well managed so never change it without speaking to them first.

“Make sure you go for your regular asthma review, which you should have at least once a year, or every six months for children,” says Sonia Munde, our Head of Helpline.

“Sometimes, if you’ve been symptom-free, and you haven’t needed to use your reliever inhaler for three months, you and your GP or asthma nurse can talk about reducing your medicines.”

I keep forgetting my asthma medicine

There are lots of reasons why you might find it hard to remember to take your medicine – perhaps you have a lot of other medicines to take as well, or maybe you forget when you’re out of your usual routine.

Think about what might help you remember. For example, you could keep your preventer inhaler next to your bed, so you remember to take it morning and evening.

If you have trouble remembering when you need new prescriptions, you could try a reminder app on your phone or ask someone to help you remember.

How do I recycle my used inhalers?

Recycling your used inhalers is a great way to make a difference to the environment and cut CO2 emissions.

And thanks to GlaxoSmithKline’s ‘Complete the Cycle’ campaign it’s easy too – just take them back to any participating pharmacy. This is good news because you can’t recycle your used inhalers using kerbside recycling.

Find your nearest participating pharmacy


Last reviewed March 2018

Next review due November 2019