"Just Use This Inhaler If It's An Emergency"

Last updated: March 2022

I recently had someone tell me that they asked their doctor to prescribe an Albuterol inhaler. When the doctor did, he told them to only use it if it was "an emergency".

I wanted to do a facepalm.

Then this person coughed and coughed the entire time I was talking to them. I asked if they wanted to use their inhaler, and that I would wait. They said that they just needed a drink of water.

When to use your albuterol inhaler for asthma emergencies

I thought this was basic information, but some people are missing the boat. Albuterol is:

"Albuterol is used to prevent and treat difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness caused by lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; a group of diseases that affect the lungs and airways)."

Most doctors are moving away from the term "emergency inhaler" and are instead calling Albuterol inhalers "rescue inhalers" or "reliever inhalers." Some people think that an emergency means they have to be gasping for air before they can use their inhaler.

Using your reliever inhaler at the first sign of trouble can help prevent you from getting to that point in the first place! And it will do just that - relieve your symptoms.

It's important to know what YOUR asthma symptoms are, because there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to asthma. As an example: I don't wheeze. Never have, never will. Neither does Middle Son.

However, I can hear Daughter wheezing from another room. Seriously.

Having an asthma action plan

You need to know when YOU need to use your Albuterol inhaler. And that means having an Asthma Action Plan (AAP.)  American Lung Association has one you can print off and take to your doctor.

They are handy because you will have green, yellow and red zones. Green means "Doing Well", Yellow means "Caution" and Red means "Get Help Now!" In the Yellow Zone, it will list some possible symptoms:


Some problems breathing

Cough, wheeze, or chest tight 

Problems working or playing 

Wake at night

Peak Flow Meter________ to ________ (between 50% and 79% of personal best)" 

Notice it doesn't say "gasping for air?!" These symptoms can be subtle and hard to pick up. In fact, asthma is often called a "silent" disease because people can't tell that your chest is tight, or that your throat is twitchy, or that you are short of breath.

The next line on the AAP says:

"Quick-reliefMedicine(s)      Albuterol/levalbuterol _____ puffs, every 4 hours as needed"

Since I'm not a doctor, I can't tell you how many puffs of your inhaler to use. This is for your doctor to fill in! But that can be different for everyone. It also says:

"You should feel better within 20–60 minutes of the quick-relief treatment. If you are getting worse or are in the Yellow Zone for more than 24 hours, THEN follow the instructions in the RED ZONE and call the doctor right away!"

See? It's all spelled out for you!

Remember - it doesn't have to be "an emergency" for you to use your Albuterol inhaler. Look at the symptoms in the yellow zone (above) from the American Lung Association.  Don't wait for it to get worse or "go away".

I'm surprised that people are still hesitant to use their inhalers. Know your body - know when YOU need to use it. And then notice how you feel afterward. Is it easier to breathe? Do you feel like that is the right amount of puffs for your body? Talk to your doctor and make a plan!


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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