What is asthma?
Asthma is a medical condition that refers to a narrowing of the airways in the lungs that is caused by inflammation in the respiratory system. This chronic lung disease is associated with a variety of symptoms, including shortness of breath, coughing and occasional wheezing from strenuous and regular activity. Nearly 25 million people are affected with asthma in the U.S., and while it can affect all ages, asthma typically develops during childhood and affects more than seven million children. There is no known cure for asthma and the condition can worsen or improve over time, but its status can be managed effectively through the use of prescription and over-the-counter asthma medicines that can allow asthma sufferers to life active, healthy lives free from interruption from their symptoms.
How do asthma medicines work?
Asthma medicines encompass a wide range of potential medications and treatments, but many are designed to treat symptoms based on the severity of the condition itself. These medicines fall into two primary categories:
- Quick-Relief Medications: In the event of an asthma attack and a tightening of the airways, quick-relief medications are primarily used to quickly open tight airways and alleviate the coughing, wheezing and chest tightness that comes with obstructed airways caused by asthma attacks. Inhalers, also known as bronchodilators that relax the muscles in the airways, are the most common medicines, including Albuterol, Levalbuterol, Metaproterenol and Terbutaline. However, if asthma attacks persist over a long period of time, physicians may prescribe oral steroids like prednisone (which are not quick-relief) but are used to treat and prevent the flare-ups of asthma attacks for three to 10 days following a major episode.
- Controller Medications: These medicines take a long-term approach to treating asthma and its symptoms, which are taken regularly to improve asthma sufferers' quality of life and limit the prevalence of asthma attacks. Additionally, this limits an individual's susceptibility to asthma triggers like allergens and other environmental hazards. These medications include corticosteroids, immunomodulators, leukotriene modifiers and long-acting beta-agonists, the most popular of which include common products like Flovent, Advair, Singulair, Symbicort and Pulmicort.
Why do asthma medicines require a prescription for reimbursement?
Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) was passed, as of January 1, 2011, a new set of uniform standards were put into place regarding the reimbursement of medical expenses. To reimburse the cost of OTC medicines and drugs under FSAs, HSAs and other consumer spending accounts, account holders must submit a prescription from a physician for each product.
Over-the-counter (OTC) asthma medicines now require a prescription from a doctor to be purchased through an FSA, HSA or HRA. For more information on a specific product, please consult our Eligibility List.