What’s the Difference Between Rescue Versus Controller Medications?

What’s the Difference Between Rescue Versus Controller Medications?

When it comes to treatment options for your child’s asthma, most medications will fall under one of two categories: rescue medication, or controller medication.

Rescue asthma medications, also known as “quick-relief” asthma medications, are used to treat asthma attacks when something triggers a flare-up, or when inflammation symptoms suddenly worsen. It is important to keep rescue asthma medications on hand to use as needed, they only help for a short period of time (typically 4-6 hours) and do not address the inflammation, which is the underlying cause of the symptoms (see below for more details about how they work). If rescue medications need to be used frequently, then asthma is not well controlled. Another use for rescue medications is use before a known trigger, such as exercise or cold weather, to prevent symptoms before they start.  

Controller medications, on the other hand, are treatments that will likely be part your child’s daily asthma management plan. Also referred to as “preventative or maintenance asthma medications,” these treatments are taken daily and work to gradually reduce inflammation within your child’s airway. Controller medications may take weeks to start working, but the long term payoff for your child means less mucus build-up in the lungs and less inflammation which results in less asthma symptoms, and less asthma attacks. A long-term controller medication is recommended that if a child needs to use a rescue inhaler more than twice a week or had severe symptoms less that six weeks apart.

For a bird’s eye look at the distinctions between rescue and controller asthma medications, check out the cheat sheet below: