Asthma Medications and Treatment

Most asthma medications are inhaled using different types of inhalers, but there is one called Singulair that you or your child can take by mouth as it comes either as a tablet or chewable tablet.

There are three main groups of asthma medications. These are:


A reliever inhaler is taken ‘when needed’ to ease symptoms. The medicine in reliever inhalers (a bronchodilater) relaxes the muscle surrounding the airways. This makes the airways open wider, and symptoms quickly ease as oxygen can enter the airways easier. Usually blue in colour they are used whenever you notice symptoms, or if physical activity is a known trigger, take reliever inhaler before starting the physical activity. If you need to use reliever medicine for asthma symptoms more than two times a week you should see your doctor.


A preventer inhaler is taken every day, twice a day, to prevent symptoms from developing. These are usually brown or orange inhalers and are taken, even when you feel well. This medicine (a corticosteroid) works by reducing the swelling and inflammation in the airways. Taking your preventer each day, helps to keep your asthma under control, as corticosteroids help reduce the inflammation inside the airways. This means you should not need to take reliever medicine most days.

Asthma New Zealand - Preventer vs Relievers

Long Acting Bronchodilator

A long acting bronchodilator can be recommended in addition to a steroid inhaler and is usually given as a combination of the two medications. Asthma is a two-process condition (inflammation and bronchoconstriction) so to help alleviate both, a preventer and long acting bronchodilator are needed. If you have found that your symptoms are not fully controlled by the preventer (corticosteroid inhaler) alone ask your GP about long acting bronchodilators. The medicines in these inhalers work in a similar way to ‘relievers’, but work for up to 12 hours. They include salmeterol and formoterol. 

Treat asthma earlier rather than later is best, particularly for aggravated asthma. Fast, effective treatment may stop your symptoms from getting worse. If you’re worried and unable to breathe properly, especially after taking your reliever medicine, see your doctor or contact emergency services immediately.

Download our Asthma Medications brochure for more information.