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Medically reviewed by
Dr Daniel Atkinson
GP Clinical Lead
on August 02, 2022.
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What is Salbutamol?

Salbutamol is the name given to the active ingredient used in asthma treatments. It’s a bronchodilator.

Salbutamol isn’t used just as an inhaler, it’s also available for use with a nebuliser, but only for severe cases of asthma or COPD. A nebuliser is a machine that produces a mist that is breathed in through a mask or mouthpiece. It’s usually used at a hospital, or you can be given a machine to use at home depending on your condition. Salbutamol is available as a tablet or syrup too, but these aren’t generally recommended as they’re less effective than inhalers.

What types of inhaler is salbutamol used in?

Salbutamol is a drug found in reliever inhalers like Ventolin and Zempreon. It can relieve asthma symptoms like a tight chest and shortness of breath quickly. Just like other reliever inhalers, it tends to be blue. People also use preventer inhalers, which are often brown, to prevent and control symptoms. Your doctor will talk to you about whether you need both and which inhaler is best for you.

The reliever inhaler is used for treating chest tightness and shortness of breath. People who have asthma use these for sudden attacks or symptoms, so it’s important to always carry your reliever inhaler with you. But, if you have to use your reliever inhaler a lot, then it could mean that your condition isn’t well-managed and you may need preventative treatment too. If you think you need to start using a preventer inhaler, ask your doctor or asthma nurse.

The brown inhaler will help to prevent more attacks. It works differently from the blue inhaler because it won’t work as a rescue treatment, but instead, you’ll use it regularly. Prevention treatment is used daily if reliever inhalers aren’t enough to control symptoms.

What does Salbutamol do to treat asthma?

Salbutamol treats asthma attacks by quickly widening the airways, this is also known as bronchodilation. When the airways become inflamed they’ll tense, become narrower and stop airflow, making it hard to breathe. Salbutamol relaxes contractions in the muscle wall around the airways, to help the respiratory passages open up so that you can breathe more easily.

When you use a reliever inhaler containing salbutamol, the medicine goes directly into your airways. This means that it treats your lungs without the medicine having to go through the rest of your body. It should start working after a couple of minutes, and the effect should last up to five hours.

Does Salbutamol contain steroids?

No, there are no steroids in a Salbutamol inhaler. Salbutamol is from the medicine group called bronchodilators. Most asthma inhalers contain a bronchodilator or a steroid. But it is possible to get an inhaler that contains both. Steroid inhalers reduce inflammation in the lungs and are used regularly each day rather than just when symptoms occur.

Other names for Salbutamol

Salbutamol is the active ingredient found in many asthma products. Some contain a mix of different ingredients, and others just have salbutamol.

Brand name puffers that use salbutamol include:

  • Ventolin
  • Zempreon
  • Airomir

Ventolin inhalers

Ventolin is a brand name that contains Salbutamol. It’s a blue inhaler brand that treats asthma symptoms.

There are two types of Ventolin inhalers, the Evohaler contains 100mcg of the active ingredient, but you need to time your breathing when you use the treatment for it to work properly. The other type is the Accuhaler and contains a higher amount of Salbutamol, 200mcg. This one is automated, which means that you don’t have to time your breathing, so you might find it easier to use.

Do combination inhalers use salbutamol?

Combination inhalers have more than one active ingredient, usually a bronchodilator which acts quickly to open-up the airways to make breathing easier and another ingredient, usually a steroid which can help prevent symptoms before they happen. Salbutamol is a fast-acting bronchodilator but it doesn’t last for long so asthma specialists usually recommend a longer acting bronchodilator like salmeterol or formoterol for combination inhalers.

Salbutamol doses

The correct salbutamol dose will depend on each person’s condition and symptoms. Make sure you follow your doctor’s instructions and the directions on the medication label. Don’t adjust your dose without talking to your doctor. The amount you need will also depend on how strong the medication is.

When using a salbutamol inhaler the average dose for treatment in adults is usually two puffs every four to six hours as required. This will contain 200 micrograms. Children between two and 12 years old will usually only need up to 100 micrograms.

If the inhaler is being used to prevent asthma after exercising, the recommended dose is two puffs, 10-15 minutes before exercise. But you should always talk to your doctor first.

Salbutamol side effects

You might experience some side effects when using Salbutamol medication, the more puffs of the inhaler you use, the more likely you are to experience these side effects. Not everyone will experience these, and they can be from mild to severe, but if you’re worried discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

The most common side effects can include:

  • Headaches
  • A faster heartbeat for a short time
  • Tremors

Uncommon side effects include:

  • Throat or mouth irritation
  • Muscle cramps

Rare side effects include:

  • Muscle pain or weakness
  • An intense headache that won’t stop
  • A fast heartbeat with chest pain
  • Bronchospasm

What to do if you experience side effects

If your side effects continue and worsen, then speak to your doctor. They might offer you a different dosage or treatment. If you experience any rare side effects listed you should seek immediate medical help.

It’s also recommended to report any side effects to the Yellow Card Scheme. This scheme has been set up by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to protect public health. It makes sure that any treatments meet the right levels of quality and safety. The scheme collects voluntary information on medicines and medical devices. You can report side effects of asthma treatment on the Yellow Card website, where you’ll be asked questions relating to the reporter, who is experiencing the side effects and what the specific effects are.

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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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