The Color Of Inhalers: Part 2

In part 1 I described the inhaler color coding system. It was a safety mechanism. It was supposed to make sure you didn’t grab the wrong inhaler during asthma attacks. The system went like this:

  • Rescue Inhaler: Blue
  • Controller inhaler: Brown

This was established back in the day when all inhalers were metered dose inhalers (MDIs). Today, you have a variety of MDIs and DPIs. Plus you also have a variety of generics. Each company wants to make their product look and feel different. But, the intent of these differences don’t seem to have the safety of the patient in mind.

Today, some rescue inhalers are blue, but some are red, some are white, some are orange. Some of these inhalers have unique feels to them. I suppose you could get used to that. However, what if you had a prescription for Proair and Symbicort. Both of these inhalers look and feel very similar.

A way to tell a difference

So, how can we distinguish between rescue and controller inhalers. An idea tossed around is universal dots. This color system would be like this. 1

  • Blue dot. Short Acting Beta Agonist (SABA). This would include rescue medicine like Ventolin and ProAir.
  • Brown dot. Inhaled corticosteroid (ICS). This would include controller medicine like Qvar and Azmanex.
  • Green dot. Long Acting Beta Agonist. This would include controller medicine like Serevent and Formoterol.
  • Yellow dot. Anticholinergic (Muscarinic). This would include controller medicine like Atrovent and Spiriva.
  • Blue and brown dots: Combination inhaler with both a SABA and ICS. I can’t think of any medicine that currently fits this category.
  • Green and Brown dots: Combination inhaler with both a LABA and ICS. This would include Advair, Symbicort, Dulera, and Breo.
  • Blue and yellow dots: Combination inhalers with both a LABA and anticholinergic. This would include medicine like Combivent.
  • Green and yellow dots: Combination inhalers with both a SABA and an anticholinergic. This would include controller medicine like Stiolto, Anoro, and Utibron.
  • Green, brown, and yellow dots. This would include medicines that include three medicines: LABA, ICS, and muscarinic. The only example I can think of here is the new medicine called Trelegy.

I think this would be a very good idea.

Going a step further to really know the difference

But, as I said in my last post, I would go a step further. Many asthma attacks occur at night. So, you roll over and grab an inhaler. You have both ProAir and Symbicort. It is dark in your room. How do you know you have the rescue inhaler (ProAir in this case)?

This is where I think a Braille system would work nice. Imbeded in the side of the ProAir inhaler could be a Braille B for blue Rescue inhaler. Imbeded in the side of Symbicort inhaler could be a braille G for LABA and B for ICS. Now you have a nice little system down.

There you go. I’m patenting this idea. Or registering or trademarking or whatever you call it. Still, I think some system of distinguishing inhalers is needed. I like the idea. What about you?


This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. Jayakrishnan, B., and Omar A. Al-Rawas, “Asthma Inhalers And Color Coding: Universal Dots,” 2010, September,, accessed 11/18/17


View Comments (1)
  • ckratina
    10 months ago

    You need to educate your patients. We overlook the importance of talking to the patient. You will confuse people with colors. Understand what you are taking and why or when you should take the medication.

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