Are Asthma Drugs Really Safe?

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Asthma is a serious condition that affects many people, with symptoms that are not easy to deal with at all. To prevent or deal more effectively with asthma attacks, you need medications. But due to the recent sea of controversy having to do with the actual effectiveness of asthma drugs and potential dangers, we started questioning whether it is more harmful to take them or not to take them.

The truth is, every medicine can have side effects, but conditions such as asthma can lead to serious consequences if a person doesn’t take the medication. Not taking the drug when having an asthma attack can even lead to death, according to Dr. William Lunn who works as the director of the interventional pulmonary service at a medical college in Houston.

But let’s talk about how asthma drugs work and how beneficial or harmful they are.

1. The effect these drugs have on growth in children

People either think that these drugs will, confusing them with steroids that athletes take, enhance growth, while others believe that they will slow down the growth in children and maybe even permanently stop it. These drugs are indeed called corticosteroids which somewhat justifies the confusion, but their job is not to supplement athletes but to act anti-inflammatory and prevent the inflammation that causes asthma attacks.

If people are given the drugs in the right form and proper doses, there shouldn’t be any problems or side effects. The drugs can be taken in two ways – orally (as a liquid), or inhaled. A professor of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch located in Galveston, Dr. William Calhoun says that the stronger variant of the drug (the one swallowed) is given when the attacks are severe, but only for a short period. This is the form of the drug that could have negative effects if taken for longer periods of time. When the crisis passes and the patient becomes stable, then inhaled steroids are to be taken, and these are the drugs that can be taken without having to worry much about the side effects, especially the ones having to do with growth in children, because, according to Dr. Calhoun, the inhaled drug is much less likely to affect the growth than the swallowed drug. He argues that this is because these inhaled steroids have been made much more effective recently, so doctors can use smaller doses for the same effect while the side effects are a much rarer thing. However, the concerns of people are understandable because the old versions of these drugs were indeed more hazardous and did in some cases cause a slower pace of bone growth.


The good news is that the new version is significantly improved and this bone growth slowing property no longer exists.

In any case, even the old version of this drug that could have potentially slowed down the growth of children was less dangerous than not taking the drug at all, because uncontrolled asthma attacks can lead to serious consequences.

2. The effect these drugs have on the immune system

Dr. Calhoun says that the steroids used to treat the symptoms of asthma can cause immune system suppression, but they also provide many benefits, so this is a price to be paid and consciously agreed on.

When it comes to affecting the immune system, the swallowed drugs have a more negative effect than the inhaled ones, and that is why the oral steroids are used for very short periods and only when things get so bad that there is no other choice. In this case, these drugs do harm the immune system, but they do it to save your life. On the other hand, when it comes to inhaled steroids, the risks are much smaller and the benefits much larger, and these drugs can be taken over an extended period of time without any complications. One of the side effects of the inhaled steroids can be a yeast infection in the throat which can easily be prevented by rising the mouth and throat after each inhalation, and treated easily with the help of a doctor.

3. Long-acting beta2-agonists

These are a type of bronchodilators that relax the muscles that line the airways in the lungs and prevent asthmatic attacks, but don’t have the ability to stop the attack once it has already started. Among these drugs are Advair (fluticasone and salmeterol) and Symbicort (budesonide and formoterol).

The FDA stresses the importance of providing enough information about the effects of these drugs on their labels, and insist that a warning about the risk of death is imprinted. Basically, these drugs are not recommended for sole use, but as a supplement to other asthma medications. Dr. Lunn explains that this is because these drugs don’t treat inflammations but can mask the symptoms and cause the condition to get even worse if they are not taken along with the inhaled steroids.

So, to prevent things from getting very bad, bronchodilators should always be taken with inhaled drugs that control inflammation. Dr. Calhoun argues that taking bronchodilators without the corticosteroids doesn’t have any purpose or effect that could be beneficial, but it could actually cause much damage.

4. The effect that Singulair has on mental health

This is a drug that is taken in the form of a pill once a day and its function is to block body chemicals called leukotrienes that increase the chances of asthma attacks. According to the FDA, there is a possibility that this drug is responsible for altering the state of mind and causing depression, suicidal ideas, hallucinations, etc. There is a warning about these side effects on the drug label, but some doctors, including Dr. Calhoun are unsure whether the state of mind gets changed by the drug or the trouble that asthma itself brings upon a person and the way it affects the lives of asthma patients.

Finally, whatever your concerns about the effects of asthma drugs may be, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor.