Asthma Treatment - Long-Term Control Medications - Long-Acting Beta Agonists (LABA)

Asthma is a lung condition that causes periodic narrowing of the airways, increased production of mucus and difficulty breathing. It occurs because the tissues within the airways are extraordinarily sensitive, and they react when irritating substances enter the respiratory system or when the person is under stress. The use of long acting beta agonists can help to reduce the number of flare-ups.

What Are Long Acting Beta Agonists?

Beta agonists are a category of drugs that affect the muscles around the lung's airways. These airways, called bronchi and bronchioles, can become irritated from breathing in allergens and particulate matter in the air. When this occurs the muscles surrounding them constrict, cause the airways to narrow. Beta agonist drugs relax these muscles, making it easier to breathe. Medications that are used to quickly relax muscles when an asthma attack is underway only produce this effect for a few hours. Long acting beta agonists last up to 12 hours to provide continuous relief from constricted breathing. Long acting beta agonist as used as maintenance drugs to reduce the frequency of flare-ups during the day and allow easily breathing through the night.

How Are LABA Medications Used?

Currently, two long acting beta agonists are prescribed for asthmatic patients, salmeterol and formoterol. These medications are prescribed as to be used twice a day in a metered dose or dry powdered inhaler form. Long acting beta agonists are generally used with corticosteroid medications to ensure the inflammation of the airways is controlled.

Patient Considerations

When using long acting beta agonists, the physician takes into consideration a variety of factors, including the age of the patient, the type of asthma he or she has, as well as the frequency and severity of symptoms. Generally, children under the age of four must receive more careful consideration than those five years old to eleven. Other health problems and medications the patient is taking may be a consideration. Long acting beta agonists are often combined with other medications to provide maximum relief from symptoms. Pregnant or nursing women should not use long acting beta agonist medications.

Side Effects

Common side effects of this medication are throat irritation, rapid heartbeat, headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, nervousness and anxiety. These symptoms do not affect all patients. Severe asthmatic exacerbations have been noted in some patients using the long acting beta agonist called salmeterol. Although the risk was low, less than one percent, the drug did lead to death in some instances. The risk was higher in African-Americans, who may have more severe asthma symptoms. These patients did no use a steroid inhalant for control of asthma. Additionally, these patients were recruited into the use of the drug by advertising, rather than having been recommended by their physician who was involved in their ongoing care.

Additional resources

Asthma Relief Medication