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Respiratory Medications

Discover the essential guide to respiratory medications, unraveling the latest breakthroughs and innovative treatments for a wide range of respiratory conditions.

USMLE Guide: Respiratory Medications


Respiratory disorders affect millions of people worldwide and can significantly impact their quality of life. Respiratory medications play a crucial role in managing these conditions by alleviating symptoms, improving lung function, and preventing exacerbations. This guide provides a comprehensive overview of the commonly used respiratory medications that you should be familiar with for the USMLE exam.

1. Bronchodilators

1.1 Beta-2 Adrenergic Agonists

  • Short-Acting Beta-2 Agonists (SABA): Examples include albuterol and levalbuterol. They provide quick relief of acute bronchospasm and are commonly used as rescue medications.
  • Long-Acting Beta-2 Agonists (LABA): Examples include salmeterol and formoterol. These medications are used for long-term control and prevention of bronchospasm in patients with chronic respiratory conditions.

1.2 Anticholinergic Agents

  • Short-Acting Anticholinergics (SAMA): Examples include ipratropium bromide. They are often used in combination with SABAs for acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Long-Acting Anticholinergics (LAMA): Examples include tiotropium and aclidinium. These medications are used for long-term maintenance therapy in patients with COPD.

2. Corticosteroids

  • Inhaled Corticosteroids (ICS): Examples include fluticasone and budesonide. They are the mainstay of treatment for chronic respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD. ICS reduce airway inflammation and help prevent exacerbations.
  • Systemic Corticosteroids: Examples include prednisone and methylprednisolone. They are used for short-term management of acute exacerbations in asthma or COPD when oral corticosteroids are necessary.

3. Leukotriene Modifiers

  • Examples include montelukast and zafirlukast. Leukotriene modifiers are used as adjunctive therapy for asthma and allergic rhinitis. They reduce bronchoconstriction and inflammation by inhibiting leukotriene receptors.

4. Mast Cell Stabilizers

  • Examples include cromolyn sodium and nedocromil. Mast cell stabilizers help prevent the release of inflammatory mediators from mast cells, providing prophylactic treatment for asthma.

5. Monoclonal Antibodies

  • Anti-IgE Antibodies: Examples include omalizumab. These medications are used for severe allergic asthma that is not well-controlled with other therapies. They inhibit the binding of IgE to mast cells, reducing allergic reactions.
  • Anti-IL-5 Antibodies: Examples include mepolizumab and reslizumab. They are used for severe eosinophilic asthma to reduce the frequency of exacerbations.

6. Mucolytics

  • Examples include acetylcysteine and dornase alfa. Mucolytics help break down and thin mucus, facilitating its clearance in conditions like cystic fibrosis and chronic bronchitis.

7. Expectorants

  • Examples include guaifenesin. Expectorants promote the clearance of mucus by increasing respiratory tract fluid secretion and reducing its viscosity.


Understanding the various respiratory medications and their mechanisms of action is essential for effectively managing respiratory disorders. This guide provides a concise overview of the commonly encountered medications in this field, helping you prepare for the usmle exam and providing a foundation for clinical practice. Remember to review each medication's side effects, contraindications, and drug interactions for a comprehensive understanding.

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