Some people may find their asthma medication becomes less effective over time or with exposure to new irritants. A healthcare professional can alter the dosage or find a more suitable medication as needed.

A person’s asthma can change over time, making some medications less effective. As a person encounters different asthma triggers, they may also require different types of medication.

There are several types of asthma and a variety of causes and triggers that may worsen symptoms. However, a variety of treatments are available.

Asthma may vary across the course of a person’s life. If asthma treatment becomes less effective, a doctor may need to adjust the types and dosages of a person’s medication.

This article looks at whether asthma medications can stop working and how a person can tell if their treatment is no longer effective. It also looks at how a doctor can help, when to contact a doctor, and tips for managing asthma.

There is no cure for asthma, but a person can typically manage symptoms with asthma treatment and management.

Asthma usually changes over time and can present differently throughout a person’s life. The disease may be more severe at times. It may go into remission or resolve completely during other periods.

Because asthma is variable, previously effective treatments may stop working as they should. Doctors can work with a person to decide which medications will most effectively treat their asthma.

Treatments for asthma include:

  • Quick-relief medications: These are fast-acting drugs that help relax the airways so a person breathes more easily. A person can use these medications as needed when their symptoms start to worsen.
  • Long-term control medications: A person should take these medications daily, even when they feel well. These medications help prevent symptoms.

Other types of asthma treatment a doctor may prescribe include:

  • Short- and long-acting bronchodilators: Bronchodilators relax the muscles around the airways, allowing them to open more easily.
  • Corticosteroids: A doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in the airways.
  • Combination medications: Doctors may prescribe medications that combine bronchodilators and corticosteroids.
  • Anticholinergics: Anticholinergics prevent bands of muscle from tightening around the airways.
  • Antibiotics: A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if a bacterial infection causes an asthma flare-up.
  • Biologics: A doctor may administer targeted therapy drugs called biologics via infusions or injections to treat moderate to severe asthma that does not respond well to other treatments.

Doctors can adjust these medications if they become less effective over time.

A person can track and monitor their symptoms to help them understand how their condition responds to different treatments.

Even with effective treatment, about 10% of people with asthma experience severe worsening of symptoms that may lead to:

  • corticosteroid treatment
  • hospitalization
  • emergency medical care

If a person experiences more severe or frequent symptoms, or their medication does not provide the same level of relief as it used to, their treatment may require adjustment.

A person can keep track of:

  • how often symptoms occur
  • what triggers they have come into contact with
  • the severity of their symptoms
  • how often they use their quick-relief medication
  • their level of symptom relief after medication
  • changes to sleep
  • changes in energy levels or ease of breathing during physical activity
  • the presence of other conditions that may affect breathing, such as allergies and flu or cold-like symptoms
  • readings from a peak flow meter, which measures the amount of air a person can exhale

If asthma treatments stop working, a doctor can help by adjusting dosages and types of asthma medication.

A doctor can use a person’s observations about their symptoms and in-office tests to determine new ways forward for more effective treatments. One option is a spirometry test. It helps measure how well the lungs are working.

A doctor may help in the following ways:

Adjusting or changing medication types

A doctor may prescribe a different dose or type of medication if a person’s current treatment stops working.

A doctor may add corticosteroids or combination medications to a person’s treatment plan or begin treatment with biologics if a person’s asthma has stopped responding to other treatments.

If a person is already receiving treatment with biologics, a doctor may change the type of biologics.

A 2022 study with 2,793 people found that switching between different types of biologics could reduce asthma flare-ups.

Making seasonal adjustments

A person may face exposure to more triggers during certain times of the year. For example, higher pollen counts during spring and severe weather conditions in summer and winter may worsen symptoms.

A doctor may prescribe higher doses of medications during these periods. They may also add medication, such as allergy shots.

Adding complementary therapies

If treatment becomes less effective, a doctor may suggest adding complementary therapies and lifestyle strategies to a person’s treatment plan. These may help in combination with prescription medications.

Complementary therapies and lifestyle strategies may include:

  • Stress-relief techniques: According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, mental health conditions like anxiety and depression as well as stress may be linked to the worsening of asthma symptoms. A person can consider talking with a therapist to manage mental health concerns. A person can also try various relaxation techniques to relieve stress.
  • Weight management: Obesity is a risk factor for asthma. A doctor or nutritionist can help a person adjust their diet and lifestyle to lose weight if they have obesity, which could improve their asthma symptoms.
  • Stopping smoking: Smoking is another risk factor for asthma. A doctor can help a person quit smoking by prescribing medications that help with smoking cessation, such as the antidepressant bupropion (Wellbutrin) and varenicline (Chantix).

A person should visit a doctor for asthma monitoring every 1–6 months when receiving anti-inflammatory therapy to assess how well their treatment is working.

If a person does not experience the same level of relief from treatment as before, or their symptoms are more frequent or severe than usual, they should contact a doctor.

After an asthma attack, a person should call 911 or local emergency services if they have any of the following symptoms:

  • cannot breathe and medication does not provide relief
  • lose consciousness
  • have a very rapid heart rate
  • become very pale or turn blue or purple
  • are too breathless to talk
  • are confused

To reduce the risk of asthma attacks and help manage symptoms, a person can:

  • keep track of their symptoms in a symptom diary
  • take all their medications as a doctor has instructed
  • ensure they are taking their medication correctly
  • always fulfill prescriptions for quick-relief medications and keep them readily accessible
  • provide friends and family with the names, locations, and instructions for the use of medications
  • have emergency contacts readily available in case of an attack
  • attend regular appointments with a qualified healthcare professional to review their symptoms and treatment
  • avoid things that trigger symptoms when possible
  • improve their indoor air quality by increasing airflow, cleaning regularly, and using air purifiers

Asthma can change over time. It may become more severe or go into remission during different periods. Certain treatments may become less effective over time as well. A doctor may need to adjust dosages or types of asthma treatment.

A doctor may add new types of medication to a person’s treatment plan, such as corticosteroids or biologics. A doctor may also adjust a treatment plan seasonally to account for allergens like pollen that may trigger symptoms.

Individuals can help doctors determine the most effective treatment plan by tracking and monitoring their symptoms.

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