Magnesium for asthma relief: When is it used and does it work?

Asthma is a common condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, asthma affects around 20.4 million adults and 6.1 million children in the country.

Asthma causes inflammation in the airways, or bronchial tubes, which move air in and out of the lungs. The inflammation triggers the body to produce excess mucus. The presence of mucus can restrict the flow of air and affect a person’s breathing.

Symptoms of asthma can include coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. They may come and go, and the severity of asthma can vary considerably from person to person.

When symptoms suddenly get worse, doctors call this an asthma attack, a flare-up, or an exacerbation of symptoms.

Many medications can treat or prevent symptoms of asthma. For a severe or life-threatening flare-up, a doctor may use magnesium sulfate.

In this article, we discuss asthma treatments and when magnesium sulfate can help. We also describe the side effects.

Asthma treatment

There is currently no cure for asthma. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms and prevent flare-ups.

Many people with asthma must take medications regularly. It is often necessary to identify and avoid factors that trigger symptoms.

Doctors work closely with people with asthma to tailor a treatment plan. This may involve a combination of quick-relief medications for flare-ups and long-term medications to prevent symptoms from returning.

A person usually uses an inhaler to absorb these drugs, but some come in tablet form.

Asthma medications can include:

  • bronchodilators, which open up the airways
  • corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation and mucus production within the airways
  • anticholinergics, which reduce muscles tightness around the airways
  • antibiotics, which help treat lung infections that can trigger symptoms

For severe or life-threatening flare-ups that do not respond to other treatments, a doctor may administer magnesium sulfate.

Possible side effects of magnesium sulfate can include:

  • skin flushing
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • muscle weakness
  • respiratory problems
  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • an irregular heartbeat
  • coma

Magnesium sulfate can also interact with some medications. It is essential for people to inform healthcare professionals of all the medications that they are currently taking.


A range of medications, including inhaled bronchodilators and corticosteroids, can treat and prevent symptoms of asthma.

If a severe flare-up of symptoms has not responded to other treatments, a doctor may use IV magnesium sulfate. They typically administer this drug in the emergency department.

Scientific evidence for the effectiveness of magnesium sulfate is inconsistent, but it may help to reduce the likelihood that a person experiencing a severe asthma attack will need to be admitted to the hospital.

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