Many quick-relief asthma medications are available only with a prescription from a doctor. However, some over-the-counter asthma medications still exist on the market and are also designed to provide quick relief for symptom flare-ups. Even though such medicines are convenient to get and provide asthma relief, one should still let the doctor know they are using over-the-counter medications, in order to prevent any life-threatening reactions.
Over-the-counter medications for asthma include theophylline-ephedrine combination pills and epinephrine inhalers. Both types of medication relieve asthma symptoms by relaxing airway muscles, which allows air to flow back smoothly through the lungs.
Epinephrine and theophylline-ephedrine should only be used for mild forms of asthma, in which symptoms flare up about once a week. Epinephrine is the more effective of the two, since it comes in a form that works quickly and is directly inhaled into the lungs, which are the source of symptom flare-ups. Epinephrine also comes in the form of a nebulizer, in which the user inhales a vaporized form of the medication. Once used, epinephrine relieves symptoms within 10 minutes and lasts for up to three hours.
Theophylline-ephedrine relieves symptoms within an hour and lasts for up to five hours. If symptoms persist after taking either form of over-the-counter medications, seek medical help immediately.
Although over-the-counter medications for asthma relief are more convenient than going to a doctor and getting a prescribed medication, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America warns against taking over-the-counter medication without consulting with a physician. This is due to the fact that a user may not know how it will interact with other medicines, and if the particular drug is indeed right for them. Taking over-the-counter allergy medications incorrectly can result in high blood pressure, a heart attack or stroke.
Repeated usage of over-the-counter asthma medication can result in tolerance, in which the body gets used to the medicine, and it no longer has an effect.
If an individual is allergic to sulfites, take care when using epinephrine nebulizers, as some forms contain them.
Expired medication should not be taken and should be flushed down the toilet.
Store medicines in a cool, dry area in the house that is not under any direct light that can harm the medication.