For most people with asthma, taking preventer medicine every day and occasionally using a reliever inhaler is enough to manage the condition. But some people might need some extra treatments to help them manage their asthma. Your GP might call these 'add-on treatments' or 'add-on therapies'. There are several different medicines that fall into this category and they work in various ways, alongside your inhalers, to help you manage your asthma. You might also decide that you want to try complementary therapies alongside your treatment - and we have information on these too.
Other treatments in brief
- Some people with asthma might be prescribed extra treatments known as 'add-on treatments' or 'add-on therapies'.
- Before prescribing one, your GP or asthma nurse will check you're using your inhaler properly, so you're getting the full benefits, and talk to you to make sure you're taking it every day, as directed.
- You will usually be prescribed one add-on treatment at a time, to see if it makes a difference. If it doesn't improve your asthma within a few weeks, your GP may stop it and try another one.
- Common add on treatments include leukotriene receptor antagonists (LTRAs), theophylline and long-acting reliever inhalers.
- There are also other types of add-on treatments, which could be seen as 'added extras' to your usual asthma medicines. These include stop smoking treatments, hay fever and rhinitis treatments, flu vaccination and complementary therapies.
Who are add-on treatments for?
If you're having asthma symptoms, you should always make an appointment to see your GP or asthma nurse to discuss your treatments. They will check you're using your inhaler properly, so you're getting the full benefits from your medicine, and talk to you to make sure you're taking it every day, as directed. Your preventer medicine works in the long term to reduce inflammation in your airways, reducing your risk of an asthma attack. So if you're not using it properly, you may have more symptoms.
If you're taking your preventer medicine as directed and you've had your inhaler technique checked by your GP or asthma nurse, but you're still having asthma symptoms, you may be prescribed an add-on treatment that tackles specific aspects of your asthma to use alongside your inhalers.
How does a GP or asthma nurse decide which add-on treatment to prescribe?
Your GP, asthma nurse or hospital consultant will usually prescribe one add-on treatment at a time, to see if it makes a difference. If you start taking an add-on treatment but it doesn't improve your asthma within a few weeks, your healthcare professional may stop that treatment before they start you on another one.
If an add-on therapy improves your asthma up to a point, but you still have some symptoms, you may be offered an additional add-on therapy or your GP or asthma nurse might decide to increase your dose of preventer medicine. They will work with you to find exactly the right combination of treatments to help you manage your asthma. It's really important to be honest with them about how you're feeling. Keep a symptoms diary while you're trying an add-on treatment, so you can note down anything you notice, even if you're not sure whether it's an asthma symptom. And always tell your GP or asthma nurse if you have any concerns about your medicines, so they can help you manage your asthma as well as possible.
Common add-on treatments your GP might prescribe
These are medicines that are sometimes called 'preventer' tablets, but unlike your preventer inhaler, they don't contain steroid medicine. They work by blocking one of the chemicals that's released when you come into contact with an asthma trigger and may be particularly effective if your asthma is triggered by exercise or allergies.
Theophylline works by relaxing the muscles that surround the airways, making it easier to breathe. It's usually prescribed as a tablet that you take twice a day. If your GP or asthma nurse prescribes this medicine, you'll need regular blood tests to check the levels in your body are neither too high nor too low.
There are two different types of long-acting reliever inhalers:
- long-acting beta agonists (LABA)
- long-acting muscarinic receptor antagonists (LAMA)
Long-acting reliever inhalers keep your airways opened up by relaxing the muscles around them. This helps you breathe more easily. In addition to this, long-acting muscarinic receptor antagonist (LAMA) inhalers have also been shown to reduce the amount of mucus produced in your airways. If your GP or asthma nurse prescribes this medicine, it's very important that you use it alongside your usual preventer inhaler.
Other treatments that might help
Smoking's bad for your health whether or not you have asthma. But if you have asthma and smoke, you're really taking a risk. Smoking, or being around other people smoking, can lead to asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack. It also makes asthma medicines less effective. Your GP or asthma nurse can prescribe treatments that can help you stop.
Hay fever and allergic rhinitis are closely linked to asthma. Roughly 80 per cent of people with asthma tell us they also have hay fever. So taking medicines to manage hay fever can be important for helping to manage your asthma.
Flu can be a trigger for asthma symptoms, so your GP or asthma nurse may suggest you have a vaccination in the autumn. The flu vaccination is designed to protect you against the major strain of flu predicted to be around that winter.
Complementary therapies such as herbal remedies, yoga and special breathing exercises are treatments some people choose to use alongside their asthma medicine. As the name suggests, these treatments may complement routine medical therapies and they’re not designed to replace them, so your GP or asthma nurse won't normally prescribe them. However, some people may benefit from breathing exercises to help them manage their asthma. It's important that you always check with your GP or asthma nurse before you try any complementary therapies as some may not be suitable for you.
Last updated July 2016
Next review due July 2019