Inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma
Information about this medicine
What are the most important things you need to know about your medicines?
Make sure you know about each of the medicines you take. This includes why you take it, how to take it, what you can expect while you're taking it, and any warnings about the medicine.
The information provided here is general. So be sure to read the information that came with your medicine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Why are inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma used?
Inhaled quick-relief medicines are used to help you breathe during an asthma attack.
They may also be used before exercise to prevent asthma symptoms. And they may be used to treat people who have only mild asthma symptoms now and then. (This is called intermittent asthma.)
What are the two types of asthma medicines?
Asthma medicines are divided into two groups.
- Long-term (controller) medicines are used every day. They can result in fewer asthma symptoms and can help prevent asthma attacks.
- Quick-relief medicines help you breathe better during an asthma attack. You use them only when you need to.
Most medicines for asthma are inhaled. These types of medicines go straight to the airways.
What are some examples of inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma?
Here are some examples of inhaled quick-relief medicines. For each item in the list, the generic name is first, followed by any brand names.
- albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin)
- levalbuterol (Xopenex)
This is not a complete list of these medicines.
How do inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma work?
Inhaled quick-relief medicines relax the muscles lining the airways that carry air to the lungs. This helps increase airflow. These medicines work within 5 to 15 minutes and help for 3 to 6 hours.
What about side effects?
You may get anxious or have tremors (for example, you may have unsteady, shaky hands) when you use inhaled quick-relief medicines. You may also have a rapid heartbeat or palpitations.
General information about side effects
All medicines can cause side effects. Many people don't have side effects. And minor side effects sometimes go away after a while.
But sometimes side effects can be a problem or can be serious.
If you're having problems with side effects, talk to your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change to a different medicine.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of side effects, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Cautions about inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma
Cautions for inhaled quick-relief medicines for asthma include the following:
- Quick-relief medicine is for times when you can't prevent symptoms and need to treat them. It is not meant to be used as the daily medicine you take to control your asthma. But because quick-relief medicine quickly reduces symptoms, people sometimes overuse these medicines instead of using the controller medicines.
- If you need to use quick-relief medicine on more than 2 days a week (except before exercise), you may need to start or increase a controller medicine. Discuss this with your doctor.
Cautions for all medicines
- Allergic reactions: All medicines can cause a reaction. This can sometimes be an emergency. Before you take any new medicine, tell the doctor or pharmacist about any past allergic reactions you've had.
- Drug interactions: Sometimes one medicine may keep another medicine from working well. Or you may get a side effect you didn't expect. Medicines may also interact with certain foods or drinks, like grapefruit juice and alcohol. Some interactions can be dangerous.
- Harm to unborn babies and newborns: If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of the medicines you take could harm your baby.
- Other health problems: Before taking a medicine, be sure your doctor or pharmacist knows about all your health problems. Other health problems may affect your medicine. Or the medicine for one health problem may affect another health problem.
Always tell your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. That information will help prevent serious problems.
Always be sure you get specific information on the medicine you're taking. For a full list of warnings, check the information that came with the medicine you're using. If you have questions, talk to your pharmacist or doctor.
Current as of: February 24, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine