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How Do I Choose the Best Over-the-Counter Asthma Medication?

Oral pills.
An inhaler with epinephrine offer fast relief.
An illustration of the pathology of asthma.
Article Details
  • Written By: Alicia Sparks
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The best over-the-counter asthma medication is one designed to work with your specific asthma symptoms. First, determine whether your asthma is mild enough for OTC asthma medication. If it is, consider the two main asthma medication ingredients, which are epinephrine and ephedrine. Understanding these ingredients will help you choose between an OTC inhaler and oral pills. You must also consider, and avoid, any ingredients that might worsen your symptoms, such as alcohol and sulfite.

The most important factor to consider before you start shopping for over-the-counter asthma medication is the severity of your asthma. Typically, doctors will suggest OTC asthma medication only for people with mild asthma who experience less than one asthma attack per week on average. Many doctors recommend that people with severe asthma use only prescription asthma medication. Before you start comparing the different kinds of over-the-counter asthma medication, talk with your doctor about the severity of your asthma. If he thinks an over-the-counter alternative might work for you, he might even suggest a certain kind.

The over-the-counter asthma medication you choose must include one of the two kinds of active ingredients for treating asthma. Those ingredients are epinephrine and ephedrine, both of which work to relax airway muscles and allow air to enter and exit the lungs more freely. Epinephrine is found in inhalers and nebulizers, and ephedrine is found in oral asthma medications.

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Understanding your typical asthma symptoms will help you choose which ingredient and which form of medication is best for you. An OTC inhaler with epinephrine tends to work faster because the medication is inhaled directly into the lungs. Pills containing ephedrine, on the other hand, can take up to an hour before symptoms begin to go away.

Regardless of which kind of over-the-counter asthma medication you choose, make sure it doesn’t include any ingredients that might produce negative reactions. For example, some OTC inhalers include preservatives like alcohol and sulfite. Either or both of these ingredients can trigger an asthma attack. If you’re not sure whether you’re sensitive to alcohol or sulfite, talk with your doctor. If you find out you are sensitive to either or both of them, make sure to choose an OTC asthma medication that doesn’t contain those ingredients.

Once your doctor advises that you can safely use an over-the-counter asthma medication, and once you know which type and which ingredients will work best for you, you can start comparing the different brands. Typically, generic medications are less expensive than name-brand medications. Note that less expensive doesn’t necessarily mean less effective. As long as the active ingredients are the same, many generic OTC medications work just as well as name brand OTC medications. Whether you start with a generic or name brand medication, understand that you might have to try several different brands before you find the one that works best for you.

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