Over-the-Counter Medications for Asthma

Asthma is a respiratory condition cause by the inflammation and constriction of the bronchial tubes, also called airways. Asthma is often a lifelong condition with no cure. Although prescription medications are advocated by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, or AAFA, as a safe and effective form of asthma treatment, there are over-the-counter alternatives available 1. Use caution when taking over-the-counter medications for asthma and discontinue use if your symptoms do not improve 1.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Causes and Symptoms

Common symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath, frequent coughing and chest tightness 2. Such symptoms are directly linked to asthma triggers. Common triggers of asthma include:

  • mold
  • pollen
  • dust
  • pollution
  • tobacco smoke
  • changes in weather
  • respiratory infections
  • heartburn
  • exercise

Triggers vary among individual, some being hereditary while others develop later in life. According to Quick Care, approximately 75 percent of asthma developed during childhood is attributed to allergies 2.


The AAFA outlines two types of over-the-counter asthma medications: oral theophylline-ephedrine tablets and epinephrine inhalers 1. Both types relieve airway constriction, which helps relieve wheezing and helps you breathe better. However, over-the-counter asthma medicines do not relieve airway inflammation, which is another cause of asthma attacks 1. Examples of epinephrine inhalers include Primatene Mist, and Bronkaid. Primatene tablets are an example of a type of oral theophylline-ephedrine medications.


Over-the-counter drugs for asthma are designed for the temporary relief of symptoms 1. According to Quick Care, epinephrine inhalers are a convenient alternative to prescription inhalers if you are waiting to see a doctor. The effects of epinephrine inhalers last two hours as opposed to the four hours offered by prescription inhalers. Oral theophylline-ephedrine tablets are also designed to be used during asthma symptom flare-ups. However, Quick Care points out that these tablets can take up to 60 minutes to work, and the effects only last for two to four hours 2.


Discontinue over-the-counter asthma medications if symptoms persist 1. According to Quick Care, symptoms that should be addressed by a physician include shortness of breath during periods of rest, sleeping problems from excessive coughing and breathing troubles that lead to chest wall retraction 2. The AAFA cautions asthmatics from treating symptoms on their own with over-the-counter drugs 1. Misuse can lead to a heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke.


Over-the-counter treatments for asthma are more convenient and perhaps less expensive than obtaining a prescription from a doctor 1. By not seeking medical treatment, however, you may not treat your asthma properly. It is best to determine what the exact cause of your asthma is in order to treat it correctly. For example, Living with Allergies explains that allergic asthmatics often require a decongestant or allergy shots in addition to asthma medication.