The History of Asthma Treatments

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Have you ever tried to breathe through a straw? You would find it extremely difficult, this is a reality for individuals who suffer from Asthma. Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This can make breathing difficult and trigger coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath (Asthma, Mayo Clinic (2018)). Asthma symptoms vary from person to person. You may have infrequent asthma attacks, have symptoms only at certain times such as when exercising or have symptoms all the time (Asthma, Mayo Clinic, 2018).

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There is no known cure for Asthma, but the symptoms can be controlled using an acute rescue treatment, controller treatment and prevention of long-term complications.


Respiratory treatments date back to Ancient Egyptians, where they would boil leaves from the Black Henbane plant and inhale the vapor fumes (A Look at the History of Asthma Inhalers, 2018). It was not until the English Industrial Revolution that the first inhaler was invented. During this time new manufacturing capabilities allowed for the creation of Nebulizers, dry powder inhalers, ceramic pot inhalers and even asthma cigarettes to be prescribed and mass produced to the public (A Look at the History of Asthma Inhalers, (2018)). The first inhaler was called a Mudge inhaler created by an astronomer John Mudge in 1770 (A Look at the History of Asthma Inhalers, 2018). In the 1800s the first portable nebulizer was created along with ceramic pot inhalers and dry powder inhalers became popular during this time as well. In 1956 a breakthrough came about when the first meter dosed inhaler was invented by George Maison whose daughter had asthma and sparked his invention by asking her father why they couldn’t put her medicine in a spray can like perfume, and he then developed the first metered-dosed inhaler to deliver medicine to the lungs and is now the most common device used to treat and control asthma symptoms.

Current Treatments

There have been four types of drug treatment for Asthma that have been used for the past one-hundred years. Long-term asthma control medications such as, inhaled corticosteroids, long-acting beta agonist to control chronic symptoms of Asthma. Short-acting rescue treatments such as Albuterol provide a rapid response to Asthma symptoms. Asthma treatments often include allergy medications taken regularly or as needed to help control allergen factors that the body is sensitive to reduce the chance of an asthmatic attack. It was not until the last forty years that the first targeted Asthma treatments such as, Cromones, Antileukotrienes, Anti-IgE were introduced. As we learn more about the biology of Asthma, we can anticipate new findings and more effective targeted treatments for the disease (A look at the History of Asthma Inhalers, 2018). Around the mid-1950’s metered-dosed inhalers had been invented to deliver epinephrine and isoproterenol as a specific beta-adrenergic agonist. These inhalers were widely used for asthma treatments and still used today, bronchodilators relieve bronchospasm by improving expiratory flow through widening of the airways and promoting lung emptying with each breath. These medications alter smooth muscle tone and reduce airway obstruction by allowing increased oxygen distribution throughout the lungs and improving alveolar ventilation (Gold,2015). New bronchodilators that have fewer side effects have been developed, due to an epidemic in Britain during the mid-20th century that caused many deaths from an Isoproterenol solution that was packaged in the metered-dose inhaler (Chu, E. K., & Drazen, J. M. (2005)). In the 1960s and 1970s relatively specific beta-adrenergic agonist was developed for use by inhalation. A new breath-actuated multidose, dry powder inhaler was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015, albuterol (ProAir RespiClick). Although this inhaler is prescribed primarily for asthma at this time, it is indicated for treatment or prevention of reversible bronchospasm (Teva Respiratory, 2016). Albuterol and is still the most popular treatment used today. The agents in Albuterol have a rapid onset of action, produced bronchodilation lasting 4-6 hours (Chu, E. K., & Drazen, J. M. (2005).

Moving forward, as new research and information about asthma is discovered, we can better treat the symptoms of asthma. New research will pave way for better targeted treatments for asthma. Asthma is a syndrome, rather than a biochemical or immunologic disease, with multiple environmental and genetic determinants (Chu, E. K., & Drazen, J. M. (2005)). New research involving gene expression will allow a scientist to experiment with new signaling pathways to better understand the pathogenesis of Asthma, sparking innovative future treatments. It is expected that asthma will become more prevalent in society unless actions are taken to decrease the pollutants we omit into the environment and realize this is a global catastrophe that can be controlled and prevented, improving the quality of life for many people suffering from Asthma and asthma related symptoms.


  1. A Look at the History of Asthma Inhalers | Everyday Health. (2018, January 29). Retrieved from
  2. Asthma. (2018, September 13). Retrieved from
  3. Chu, E. K., & Drazen, J. M. (2005). Asthma. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 171(11), 1202-1208. doi:10.1164/rccm.200502-257oe
  4. Gold. (2015, April 24). Genome-wide expression profiles identify potential targets for gene-environment interactions in asthma severity. Retrieved from
  5. Teva Respiratory. (2016.). The RespiClick® Family of Products. Retrieved from
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The History of Asthma Treatments. (2019, Jul 30). Retrieved from