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Home > Medication > Medication Descriptions > Anti-Inflammatories and Corticosteroids

Anti-Inflammatories and Corticosteroids

Anti-inflammatory medications are used to control airway inflammation, a major problem of asthma. Although asthma is a reversible condition, untreated airway inflammation can cause permanent damage to the inside of the lungs' airways. This may lead to a permanent decrease in lung function, which may cause shortness of breath.

Anti-inflammatory medications used in the treatment of asthma include Prednisone, Prednisolne, Pediapred, cortisone, and inhaled medications, such as Flovent, Beclovent, Vanceril, Pulmicort, Azmacort. Advair Diskus also contains an anti-inflammatory, Flovent. These anti-inflammatory medications are all corticosteroids.

There are other asthma medications that also work as anti-inflammatory agents. These include Intal (also called cromolyn) and Tilade(also called nedocromil), although they are not corticosteroids—they control inflammation by inhibiting mast cell degranulationa and other mediators. These medications have a weaker anti-inflammatory action than corticosteroids.

Corticosteroids naturally occur in the body and are chemicals secreted by the brain's adrenal cortex. corticosteroids are often called adrenal cortical hormones.

There are actually three types of hormones produced by the adrenal cortex: glucocorticords (cortisol) mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), and sex hormones such as androgens and estrogens

The mineralocorticoid aldosterone regulates body water. The corticosteroids used in pulmonary diseases such as asthma are derived of cortisol or hydrocortisone as it is also sometimes called.

Many people confuse corticosteroids with anabolic steroids and have often feared their use. Anabolic steroids are testosterone, or the male sex hormone. This hormone is also secreted by the adrenal cortex. This hormone is androgenic, is responsible for secondary male sex characteristics, and is present in both men and women, although to a lesser degree in women. Testosterone also causes anabolic effects such as increase in muscle and lean body mass. The medical use of this hormone includes stimulation of red blood cells in certain forms of anemia and stimulation of sexual development in male patients. It's important for you to understand that anabolic steroids are not the type of steroids used in asthma or other lung diseases.

Another common fear about corticosteroids is that they will cause growth suppression in children. To date, many studies have been done that prove that corticosteroids do not stunt a child's growth. Six years of ongoing studies in children and adolescents who used inhaled corticosteroids show that the speed of growth may be slowed by about 1 cm. over one year in children. However, these children catch up and do attain their full adult height. In some studies, these children grew even taller than their siblings. Interestingly, poorly controlled asthma can actually contribute to growth suppression.

Properly used under the direction of a physician, corticosteroids have been proven to be safe and effective to maintain and lessen the symptoms of asthma. The evidence is clear, the advantages far outweigh the possible side effects.

© 2019 American Association for Respiratory Care