Prednisone is rarely the only asthma treatment someone will have. Instead, it is often used along with other medicines, such as inhalers.
In this article, we examine how prednisone helps with treatment of asthma, along with the side effects that it can cause. We also look at the alternative treatment options that are available.
How is prednisone used for asthma?
Doctors often prescribe prednisone for acute asthma exacerbations. This is the type of asthma attack where a person cannot breathe well or at all. Acute asthma exacerbations often require emergency medical attention.
When a person has a significant asthma attack, they often experience airway inflammation afterward. The airways become puffy and irritated. The effect is more like breathing through a straw than breathing through a wide airway.
A doctor prescribes corticosteroids to reduce the body’s inflammatory response after the asthma attack.
Prednisone is a laboratory-made medication, but it works much like the body’s steroid hormones. Some people call prednisone “prednisolone,” which is the name of the compound the body converts prednisone to so it can be used by the cells.
When a person takes prednisone, the body thinks it is a steroid hormone. These hormones enter the body’s cells and create chemical reactions that tell the body to stop making inflammatory compounds.
As a result, a person is ideally able to breathe more easily because their airways are less narrow. They also create less mucus, making it easier to breathe.
Prednisone is a short-acting steroid, with a half-life of between 18 and 36 hours. Doctors may prescribe prednisone instead of other steroids because it does not last as long in the body. The medicine lasts long enough to help a person overcome their acute asthma symptoms.
An initial dosage of prednisone will be between 5 and 60 milligrams per day. Doctors can then change the dosage until they find one that has a satisfactory effect.
According to older research, if corticosteroids are given in an emergency department setting within 1 hour of a person arriving, they may be less likely to require hospitalization.
When taken in the short term, a person is less likely to experience side effects. Short-term side effects of using prednisone for asthma include:
- increased appetite
- increased blood pressure
Taking oral steroids such as prednisone can also increase a person’s blood sugar. If someone has diabetes, this reaction should be taken into account.
People who use steroids for short periods of time do not usually experience any of the long-term side effects associated with taking oral steroids. The side effects of long-term use of oral steroids can include:
- impaired growth
- increased risk for cataracts
- increased risk for osteoporosis
- long-term weight gain
- mood swings, especially in those with a history of anxiety and depression
- thinning skin
Doctors rarely prescribe steroids as a long-term asthma treatment, however.
If a doctor does prescribe long-term steroids, a person should never suddenly stop taking them. Doing so can cause symptoms, including dizziness, thirst, and vomiting. Instead, they may need to reduce the dosages slowly before stopping completely.
When a person has asthma, the goal is to help control their attacks so that they are infrequent or do not occur at all. Signs that indicate someone should see a doctor about managing their asthma include:
- using a “rescue” inhaler, such as albuterol, more than twice a week
- having asthma symptoms that disturb sleep at least once per week
- having an acute asthma exacerbation that requires hospitalization
Many different medications are available to treat asthma. Doctors may need to try different combinations of these medicines to work out what will be most effective for a person.
Prednisone is a short-term medication option to help children and adults who have experienced acute asthma exacerbations. These medications can reduce inflammation by lowering the body’s immune response to an asthma attack.
While long-term steroid use can be concerning, short-term use does not typically cause unwanted side effects.
Ideally, a person can adjust their medications and asthma treatment plan after a significant asthma attack to reduce the likelihood of one happening again.
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