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Mast Cell Stabilizers for Long-Term Control of Asthma

Examples

Generic Name
cromolyn

Cromolyn is used with a metered-dose inhaler or a nebulizer. Always read the directions to be sure you are using the inhaler correctly.

How It Works

Mast cells are found throughout the body, including in the airways in the lungs. They can release substances that result in inflammation, causing the symptoms of asthma. Mast cell stabilizers prevent the mast cells from releasing the substances that cause inflammation. This may reduce asthma symptoms.

Why It Is Used

Cromolyn may be used to treat mild persistent asthma. It also can be used to prevent asthma symptoms during exercise and before exposure to a substance that may trigger an asthma attack. Mast cell stabilizers do not work as well as inhaled corticosteroids, which are now the recommended treatment.1

Mast cell stabilizers usually do not relieve symptoms in people who have moderate to severe persistent asthma. These medicines are not used to treat asthma attacks.

Different types of medicines are often used together in the treatment of asthma. Medicine treatment for asthma depends on a person's age, his or her type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling asthma symptoms.

  • Children up to age 4 are usually treated a little differently than those 5 to 11 years old.
  • The least amount of medicine that controls the asthma symptoms is used.
  • The amount of medicine and number of medicines are increased in steps. So if asthma is not controlled at a low dose of one controller medicine, the dose may be increased. Or another medicine may be added.
  • If the asthma has been under control for several months at a certain dose of medicine, the dose may be reduced. This can help find the least amount of medicine that will control the asthma.
  • Quick-relief medicine is used to treat asthma attacks. But if you or your child needs to use quick-relief medicine a lot, the amount and number of controller medicines may be changed.

Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and dose of medicines that work best.

How Well It Works

Cromolyn reduces asthma symptoms, improves morning peak expiratory flow, and decreases the need for short-acting beta2-agonists.1 But it does not work as well as inhaled corticosteroids.1

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Common side effects of this medicine include:

  • Throat irritation and coughing.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fullness after eating, heartburn, or abdominal (belly) pain.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Doctors recommend the use of a spacer with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The spacer is attached to the MDI. A spacer may deliver the medicine to your lungs better than an inhaler alone. And for many people it is easier to use than an MDI alone.

Try to avoid giving your child an inhaled medicine when he or she is crying, because not as much medicine is delivered to the lungs.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.

Checkups

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

References

Citations

  1. National Institutes of Health (2007). National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma (NIH Publication No. 08–5846). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/index.htm.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Last Revised February 22, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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