Non-steroidal inhalers

These non-steroidal alternatives may be of value in treating allergic asthma.

Non-steroidal preventer inhalers in brief

  • Some people with asthma are prescribed a non-steroidal inhaler. This is a preventer inhaler that reduces and prevents inflammation in the airways over the long term, helping you breathe more easily. They do not contain steroids.
  • There are two types of non-steroidal inhalers: Intal and Tilade.
  • Taking your non-steroidal inhaler regularly, usually three or four times a day, means you're less likely to have asthma symptoms, or asthma attacks.
  • You should use it even if you're feeling well because the protective effect builds up over time.
  • Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist should show you how to use your inhaler properly so that every dose is effective.
  • Your non-steroidal inhaler will not be useful during an asthma attack. Keep your fast-acting reliever inhaler with you at all times so you can use it if you have any asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.

What non-steroidal preventer inhalers are there?

Intal (sodium cromoglicate) is an MDI (Metered Dose Inhaler). It can be prescribed to adults and to children over five. This medicine works well for you if your asthma is triggered by an allergy or exercise.

Tilade (nedocromil sodium) is also an MDI (Metered Dose Inhaler). The medicine is mint flavoured. It is suitable for adults and children over five.

You or your child might be prescribed a non-steroidal inhaler when:

  • You're unable to take a steroid-based inhaler.
  • Your GP thinks you need an add-on therapy if you have exercise-induced asthma.
  • You're having side effects that you can't manage from taking steroidal inhalers.
  • You're reluctant to take steroid based inhalers.

Evidence suggests non-steroidal inhalers might be useful to people with allergic asthma.

How do non-steroidal inhalers help with asthma?

Non-steroidal inhalers are preventers. They help by calming the inflammation in the airways and keeping the airways open. This means you'll be able to breathe more easily, have fewer asthma symptoms and cope better with your asthma triggers. Your preventer inhaler needs to be taken every day as prescribed to see these results.

Do they work as well as the inhalers which use steroids?

No. Non-steroidal inhalers are not as effective as the steroid based preventer inhalers at reducing inflammation in the airways. They are prescribed as a non-steroidal alternative, but may not be the best option for some people.

If you feel like your non-steroidal inhaler is not working, or you feel unwell, or your asthma symptoms are worse it's important that you tell your GP or asthma nurse.

How often do you need to take your non-steroidal inhaler?

Non-steroidal inhalers need to be taken regularly every day for them to have an effect on the inflammation. However, they need to be taken more often than steroid based preventers - up to three or four times a day on a regular basis. If you've been prescribed a non-steroidal inhaler, your GP or asthma nurse will tell you how often you need to take it.

With any asthma preventer medicine, it's very important to get into a good routine of taking it as prescribed and discussed with your GP or asthma nurse. Find out how you can get into good habits taking your preventer inhaler.

Will you still need other asthma medicines?

Yes. You'll still need a reliever inhaler (usually blue).

Your non-steroidal inhaler works on the long-term inflammation in the airways so it will improve asthma symptoms. But it won't be any good if your symptoms flare up or if you have an asthma attack - that's when you need your reliever inhaler to work quickly to open up your airways.

What kind of benefits can you expect?

Usually non-steroidal inhalers are given to someone for four to six weeks to see how they respond. If they're not making any difference to asthma symptoms you'll come off them gradually over a week.

Possible side effects of non-steroidal inhalers

Most medicines have side effects but not everyone experiences them.

Side effects for Intal include a sore throat, cough, headache and bronchospasm (where the muscle within the lining of the airways contracts and narrows the airways).

Side effects for Tilade include nausea, stomach ache, and vomiting. Some people find they get a bitter taste in the mouth after using Tilade, but this is quite rare.

If you're worried about any side effects speak to your GP or asthma nurse. You can also talk to one of our asthma nurse specialists by calling our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri).

Last updated April 2016

Next review due Apil 2019