Asthma Medication FAQs

The following FAQs provide warnings and information about asthma drug interactions.

Q. Is there a connection between the occurrence of childhood measles and the likelihood of developing asthma later in life?

A. Medical opinions differ regarding this issue. One school of thought argues that contracting measles as a child actually decreases the chance of developing childhood or adult-onset asthma. Other experts believe that the occurrence of childhood measles is less important and that risk is more dependent on whether one or both parents are asthmatic.

A study of more than 300 adults in Aberdeen, UK, concluded that early childhood infection with measles had a positive effect later in life. Subjects with measles were less likely than a control group to be diagnosed with asthma in their twenties and thirties.

Q. I’ve heard that many non-prescription drugs contain albuterol. Is this true and if so, what are the risks of taking such medications if I’m already using an albuterol inhaler to control my asthma?

A. Certain non-prescription drugs, such as diet pills or “over-the-counter” medications for the common cold, contain albuterol. Don’t take any of these medicines without first consulting your doctor. This is particularly important if you’re pregnant.

Q. I’m currently taking theophylline for control. I also have an ulcer and was wondering whether it’s safe to take TagametĀ® to treat my ulcer while taking theophylline.

A. Asthmatics should always be wary of taking cimetidine (branded as Tagamet) in combination with theophylline. In certain cases, cimetidine is capable of increasing the level of theophylline in the bloodstream to toxic levels. Cimetidine should also not be taken with certain blood thinners, seizure medications, and heart rhythm drugs.

Hidden Dangers

Children and adults diagnosed with asthma must be particularly wary of taking common drugs (e.g. aspirin, cough medicine and TagametĀ®) in combination with their asthma medication. The treatment of common ailments such as measles, chicken pox and even ordinary respiratory infections can sometimes lead to complications in the asthmatic. Caution is particularly appropriate when interaction between common drugs and prescribed corticosteroids (asthma drugs that simulate natural steroid hormones) might occur.

Check all labels and inserts for warnings. Tell your doctor and pharmacist what asthma medications you’re using.

Q. Should asthmatics be careful about taking aspirin?

A. Yes. Aspirin can trigger an attack in approximately twenty percent of asthmatics, particularly those who have nasal polyps.

Q. I have heard that, as an asthmatic, it isn’t safe for me to take a non-prescription cough medicine. Is this true?

A. In most cases, over-the-counter cough medicines are safe. Be aware, though, that a chronic or heavy cough may also indicate poorly controlled asthma. Consult your doctor before taking any non-prescription cough medicines.

Q. Are any risks associated with chicken pox and taking corticosteroids?

A. Evidence published by the American College of Allergy and Immunology concludes that children taking corticosteroids, by mouth or injection, are at greater risk of developing complications from chicken pox. This does not hold true for children using inhaled corticosteroids.

Q. Can taking beta blockers cause problems for asthmatics?

A. Yes. Beta blockers interfere with the action of epinephrine on the sympathetic nervous system to reduce the symptoms associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, angina, anxiety, migraines and other disorders. Most asthma medications stimulate the sympathetic nervous system and therefore have a conflicting effect. Ipratropium drugs, however, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and do not conflict with the action of beta blockers.

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