Medicines used to treat acute asthma


People with asthma are sometimes prescribed short courses of oral corticosteroid in tablet or liquid form, such as prednisolone, to help regain asthma under control during a flare-up or ‘asthma attack’. Your doctor may include oral corticosteroid medication on your written Asthma Action Plan as a step to take if your asthma worsens.

This is a powerful anti-inflammatory medicine which helps by quickly reducing the inflammation in your lungs. It is much stronger than the inhaled corticosteroid in preventer inhalers.

A small number of people who continue to experience asthma symptoms and frequent flare-ups may be prescribed steroid tablets for longer periods by a doctor or specialist. This could be months or years. Your doctor or specialist will only prescribe this if it is necessary to prevent you from having regular flare-ups.

The potential side effects from oral steroids include:

  • Weight gain
  • Reflux and bloating
  • Mood swings
  • Poor sleep
  • Bone fractures (osteoporosis)
  • Susceptibility to infection
  • Risk of diabetes
  • Cataracts

Side effects are more likely if you’re on long-term oral corticosteroid tablets, compared to if you only take a short course when your symptoms get worse. Your doctor will be aware of the possible side effects of steroid tablets and will monitor the doses and medicines you need for your asthma. To reduce the risk of side effects, your doctor will keep you on the lowest possible dose of steroid tablets.

If you need to use oral corticosteroids frequently or for prolonged periods, it is important to discuss options with your doctor about the relevance of add-on therapies for your asthma. This discussion will include confirming your correct and regular use of your preventer inhaler as well as attending to your general health and other medical conditions.