What is asthma?

Asthma causes a variety of symptoms due to narrowing and inflammation of your airways. These symptoms can include:

  • – wheezing
  • – a persistent cough
  • – shortness of breath
  • – chest tightness.

What causes asthma?

The exact cause of asthma unknown. It is associated with allergies and it runs in families. Symptoms of asthma are brought on by triggers which can include:

  • – cold air
  • – various allergies including pollen, cats and house dust mites
  • – exercise
  • – smoke
  • – infections
  • – fumes and dust in your workplace.


Most people with asthma can control their symptoms with the right treatment, usually inhalers.

What is the treatment?

There are several different types of inhaler. The types are usually divided up into relievers and preventers. Relievers relieve symptoms and preventers stop the symptoms happening.

With some inhalers, using a spacer helps get more of the medicine into your lungs. Many of the newer inhalers are designed to be used without a spacer.

Some people forget to use their preventer inhaler regularly. If you find you aren’t taking it as often as agreed, talk to your doctor.


Short-acting relievers

If you have asthma, you should have a reliever to use when you feel wheezy or short of breath. These manage your symptoms quickly by relaxing the muscles in your airways, opening them up to allow more air to flow. Examples of short-acting relievers include salbutamol (Respigen or Ventolin) and terbutaline (Bricanyl).

If you are using your reliever more than three times a week, you may need a preventer inhaler as well. One reason for this is that your body may get used to the reliever medication so it no longer works as well.


Preventers reduce the inflammation in your airways. Unlike relievers, preventers don’t make you feel better straight away. But if you use them every day they make your asthma symptoms less likely to occur. These preventers are usually mild steroids. Examples of steroid preventers include beclometasone (Beclazone) and fluticasone (Flixotide).

Long-acting relievers

Long-acting relievers help to keep your airways relaxed and open. You usually take these medications when your preventer inhaler is not enough to keep your asthma under control.

Combination inhalers

Combination inhalers contain both a long-acting reliever and a steroid preventer. Examples of these medications include salmeterol plus fluticasone (Seretide), formoterol plus budesonide (Symbicort or Vannair), and vilanterol plus fluticasone (Breo).

Single inhaler therapy

Single inhaler therapy is when some combination inhalers can be used both as a reliever and a preventer. This is much more convenient and whenever you need more reliever, you’ll automatically get more preventer. You use this inhaler every day, but also when you need quick relief if you feel wheezy or short of breath.

Symbicort and Vannair are the only combination inhalers in New Zealand that can be used in this way. Other combination inhalers such as Seretide, and Breo should not be used as single inhaler therapy.

See a doctor for your asthma medications: