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My Experience With The Color Of Inhalers

You can consider this “The Color of Inhalers: Part 3.” In part 1 I discussed why inhalers are different colors (or should be). Of course, I also described how this color scheme is often violated these days. In part 2, I described a goal of some experts to create a new color coding system. In this post is my personal experience with color coding.

In 1985 I had prescriptions for two inhalers. One was albuterol. It was blue. The other was Vanceril. It was pink. Other than color, these inhalers both looked and felt the same. They were both metered dose inhalers (MDIs). So, the only way of differentiating between the two was by the print and by the color.

I knew very well the difference between these two inhalers. I knew that the pink inhaler was an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS). It was a controller inhaler that I had to take four times a day. It did not give me my breath back. But, it reduced airway inflammation and helped to keep my asthma in check.

The other inhaler was albuterol. It was a rescue inhaler that I was to take every 4-6 hours as needed for shortness of breath. I sometimes used it as prescribed. But, there were many times I used it when I needed it. And this meant I used it more than prescribed.

My doctor knew about this. I brought it to his attention on various occasions. When I was a little kid I kept this knowledge hidden. But, when I got older, I discussed it with my doctor. He said, “If you need it you need it.” Or, he said, “It beats the alternative.”

The diagnosis

Back then the term severe asthma didn’t exist. So, I was diagnosed with high risk asthma at the asthma hospital in 1985. You could think he was blowing me off. But, I don’t think he was. He knew that I didn’t have typical asthma. He knew I was a well educated asthmatic. He knew I had it really bad. He knew if I didn’t use it I would end up in the emergency room (or dead).

Okay? So my doctor knew my plight. And this sets up what I wanted to write about today.

Here’s the why….

I used my rescue inhaler a lot. This was especially true at night. Sometimes I’d grab for my inhaler and puff as needed. Sometimes I did this a lot during the night. Often I slept with my inhaler. I held it firmly in my grasp. Other times I put it under my pillow. Other times I set it on my bedside table.

There were a few times I woke up with Vanceril in my grasp. I realized I was puffing on the wrong inhaler. Lesson learned. I made sure to place my Vanceril on a table far from my bed. My Ventolin is what I made sure to have near me. I slept with it nice and snug like a child would sleep with a Teddy bear.

In the early 1990s, Serevent entered the market. It was also a controller inhaler. My doctor prescribed one for me. He said, “This is a long acting Ventolin inhaler. You take it twice a day and no more.” He said. He paused, and added, “Do not take it more than twice a day.”

“Okay,” I said.

Serevent was green. It also had a shorter canister than the other inhalers. So, it was distinguished from other inhalers by its color and by it’s smaller canister

The problem here is that the sample sizes of Ventolin also had shorter canisters. When you were admitted to the hospital you were given sample size inhalers. The same was true when you were given free samples by your doctor. So, I usually had a few of these around.

One night I was having a bad asthma night. I woke up and it was very dark in my room. I reached on my bedside table and felt for my rescue inhaler.

I found it.

It was a shorter inhaler. I just assumed it was the sample Ventolin. I puffed on it several times in the night. I’m talking, like, many times I puffed on it.

In the morning I was short of breath again. I searched for my inhaler. I found it under my pillow. I said, “Oh Crap!”

What I saw in my grasp was Serevent inhaler.

That was when I realized three things. One, that I needed to start paying better attention. Two, that overusing Serevent won’t kill me. Three, that I better start paying attention.

From that point on, I made sure to keep my Serevent with my Vanceril. I made sure to only have albuterol by my bed.

Today I still do this. Today I use Advair instead of those older medicines. But, I make sure to keep it far, far away from my bedside. It stays in the kitchen cupboard or medicine cabinet.

I have never repeated this stupid dunderhead act again. So, if you’ve done something dunderhead-like, you’re definitely not alone.


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.