Albuterol is a short-acting beta-agonist (SABA). It is used as a rescue medicine to treat asthma attacks in people ages 4 and older. It is also approved to prevent exercise-induced asthma. Albuterol is taken using a metered-dose inhaler or nebulizer.1-3
How does albuterol work?
During an asthma attack, the muscles that surround the airways can constrict. This causes difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness. Albuterol works by relaxing the muscles that surround the airways, which causes the airways to open up.4
When albuterol is used to treat exercise-induced asthma, it is taken before exercising to prevent the constriction of the airway muscles. Albuterol affects the whole airway, from the large trachea to the very small bronchioles. It generally works in 5 to 8 minutes. The effects last 3 to 6 hours.1-3
Formulations of albuterol
Currently, albuterol is marketed as several brand-name products:4
Albuterol is also available as a generic inhaler.5
What are the possible side effects of albuterol?
The most common side effects of albuterol include:1-3
- Muscle pain
- Sore throat
- Nausea, vomiting
- Running nose
- Feelings of shakiness or nervousness
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of these potentially serious side effects:4
- Rashes, hives, or itching
- Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
- Swelling anywhere on your body
- Hoarse voice
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
These are not all the possible side effects of albuterol. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with albuterol.
Things to know about albuterol
In serious cases, taking albuterol could cause your airways to tighten suddenly. This is called a bronchospasm and can make breathing difficult. This side effect happens immediately after using the inhaler. It can occur the first time you use a new canister. If this happens to you, call your doctor, and use a different asthma treatment.1-3
People with heart problems should be cautious about taking albuterol. Albuterol can cause changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and other heart disease symptoms. These effects are rare with the recommended dose of albuterol. Albuterol may also worsen conditions like thyroid problems, seizures, diabetes, or low potassium levels.1-3
Overusing your albuterol inhaler can worsen your asthma. Studies show that taking albuterol regularly can lead to worse lung function and asthma control. Albuterol is meant to provide occasional quick relief of symptoms, not long-term control. Using albuterol more than 2 days per week is a sign of poor asthma control. If you find yourself using albuterol often, consider discussing your asthma control options with your doctor.6
Tell your doctor if you are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding or plan to breastfeed. There are no high-quality studies of albuterol in pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) states that albuterol is the preferred SABA during pregnancy. The NHLBI guidelines also state that women can breastfeed while taking a beta-agonist like albuterol.1-3,7
Before starting albuterol, tell your doctor about any prescription medicines, vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter drugs you are taking. Certain medicines affect the way albuterol works, including other asthma drugs, other inhaled medicines, beta-blockers, diuretics, digoxin, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs).1-3
For more information, read the full prescribing information of an albuterol inhaler like Proventil® HFA, or Ventolin®.