Inhaled Steroids for Asthma: Pros and Cons

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Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the airways. People whose asthma is mild generally don’t have to take anti-inflammatory drugs, but continuous use of these medications is a crucial component of the asthma management plan for people who have frequent symptoms.

The initial choice of treatment used to counteract inflammation in an adult with asthma is an inhaled corticosteroid. Guidelines from the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program (NAEPP) underscore the importance of inhaled steroids as the best long-term treatment for asthma symptoms.

Inhaling cortcosteroids instead of swallowing them in pill form reduces the amount absorbed by the body, which lowers (but doesn’t eliminate) the risk of experiencing adverse effects.

Inhaled corticosteroids can cause hoarseness, throat irritation, and a cough. Thrush (candidiasis), a yeast infection of the mouth and tongue, is another risk, especially in older individuals. You can minimize the risks by rinsing your mouth after inhalation, keeping the inhaler clean, and using a spacer device to reduce the amount of medicine that settles in your mouth.

Some studies show that inhaled corticosteroids can raise cataract risk, and the larger the dose, the greater the risk of cataract surgery. However, the benefits of using inhaled corticosteroids for some conditions may outweigh the long-term risk of cataracts, which are treatable.