Terbutaline

Table of contents
Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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What is Terbutaline?

Terbutaline, or Bricanyl, is a treatment for wheezing and shortness of breath that can arise from different lung problems, including bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s used as a rescue treatment for sudden breathlessness or wheezing to give-short term relief. You can also use it before exercise as a preventative treatment, to make sure that symptoms don’t appear during or after exercise.

Terbutaline is a type of treatment known as a bronchodilator. It works by relaxing and dilating the muscles around your airways, allowing them to open up, which helps you to breathe more easily. It was first produced in 1966 and was later granted approval in 1974.

How does Terbutaline work?

Terbutaline works by quickly opening up your airways if you’re suffering from an asthma attack. It relaxes the muscles that surround your airways to make it easier for you to breathe. You’ll usually start to see relief from Terbutaline after a few minutes, and it should last for three to five hours.

Everyone who suffers from asthma should have a reliever inhaler to treat asthma attacks if, or when, they happen. It’s important to have your inhaler with you in case you experience symptoms unexpectedly, especially if you’re particularly vulnerable to them.

If you’re using your reliever inhaler regularly it could mean that your asthma symptoms isn’t being controlled, so it’s worth talking to a clinician to see if you need a preventer (brown) inhaler.

Why is the Terbutaline inhaler blue?

There are different colours for inhalers which can sometimes indicate whether it’s a reliever treatment or a preventer treatment. Historically, relievers were blue and preventers were brown, but these days this isn’t always the case. Terbutaline does, however, fit this mould: as it’s a blue-coloured reliever inhaler.

People will often have a blue inhaler to treat sudden symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest tightness.

The preventer inhaler usually helps to avoid asthma attacks and control symptoms, but it shouldn’t be used as a rescue treatment. It contains a low amount of steroids to help reduce your airway’s sensitivity, and reduces the likelihood of future asthma attacks by helping your body to be more resistant to triggers. But you’ll need to use this inhaler regularly for the effects to develop, which can take up to two weeks.

You’ll usually be prescribed a preventer inhaler if you’re using your reliever inhaler more than three times a week to control your symptoms. Your clinician might also decide to prescribe one if your symptoms or attacks are affecting your sleep.

There are other colours as well, including red, beige, purple and green, which will be for prevention or relief – either as a combination or as a single treatment. Your clinician will be able to help you decide which type of inhaler can be the most suitable for your needs.

What dosages does Bricanyl Turbohaler come in?

The Bricanyl Turbohaler is a powder that is taken as a 0.5mg dose. You’ll need to take one or two inhalations as required for wheezing or shortness of breath, and wait around two or three minutes between each inhalation.

The Bricanyl Nebuliser has a 2.5ml dose as a solution, and requires a nebuliser machine to be used correctly, these are sometimes helpful for people who struggle to use a traditional inhaler device

Is Bricanyl the only brand of terbutaline?

Yes. Although Bricanyl comes in a few different doses and forms, you can’t get terbutaline — its active ingredient — in any other branded asthma treatment. Not only that, but it’s not available as a generic treatment either. This means that, in practical terms, Bricanyl and terbutaline are pretty much one and the same thing. So if Bricanyl doesn’t work particularly well for you, or you were looking for a generic treatment that might be a little more cost effective, you’ll need to use an asthma treatment that uses a different active ingredient.

Bricanyl alternatives

If you have asthma, it’s likely you’ll need prescription medication to help control it. If you want to change your asthma treatment you’ll need to talk to your clinician, who will review your symptoms to give you the most suitable options. You should also have regular check-ups to make sure that the inhaler you’re using is still helping with your symptoms.

What are the differences between salbutamol and terbutaline?

Both salbutamol and terbutaline are bronchodilators, so they work in similar ways to treat sudden asthma attacks and symptoms, but the active ingredients are different, so you might find that one of these is more suited to you than the other.

A clinical study found that although salbutamol produced a greater effect after the first hour, from then on there was no difference in action, and an effective bronchodilator response was maintained by each drug for at least four hours.

Bricanyl side effects

Bricanyl can cause side effects, but they’ll often vary from person to person. Once your body gets used to the treatment, side effects will usually reduce. The most common side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Tremors
  • Feeling shaky
  • Nervousness
  • Muscle cramps
  • Problems sleeping

These are usually mild, and only last for a few days or weeks. If you’re concerned, chat with your clinician.

You should seek immediate help if you experience changes in your heartbeat, hallucinations, chest pain, or if your breathing suddenly worsens.

Reference Popover #ref2
This page was medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson, GP Clinical Lead on August 02, 2022. Next review due on August 01, 2024.

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