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How long can you be on Symbicort?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on May 22, 2023.

Official answer


Key Points

  • Symbicort (generic name: budesonide and formoterol) is an inhaler medication used to control symptoms and improve lung function in patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This medication is used as two puffs twice a day, 12 hours apart, for long-term control of asthma and COPD. Symbicort should NOT replace a rescue inhaler (such as albuterol) for sudden breathing symptoms.
  • If you have asthma, your doctor may decide at some point that you can stop taking Symbicort without loss of control. You may be prescribed a long-term asthma medication that only contains an inhaled corticosteroid. This is a decision only your doctor should make. Do not stop using Symbicort for your asthma without speaking to your doctor first.
  • For COPD, Symbicort is used long-term to improve your breathing symptoms and reduce the number of flare-ups. Continue to take your Symbicort for as long as your doctor recommends it and exactly as prescribed.

Which medicines are in Symbicort?

Symbicort comes as a combination inhaler and contains two medicines:

  • budesonide: an inhaled corticosteroid that reduces inflammation in the lungs.
  • formoterol: a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA) inhaled bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways to improve breathing.

Symbicort is used for two conditions:

  • for the treatment of asthma in patients 6 years and older not adequately controlled on a long-term asthma-control medication such as an inhaled corticosteroid or whose asthma requires both an inhaled corticosteroid and a long-acting beta-agonist (LABA).
  • the higher strength of Symbicort (160/4.5 mcg) is used for the maintenance (long-term) treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), that includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema or both, and to reduce COPD flare-ups.

Asthma and COPD are lung conditions that usually need to be controlled with long-term treatment. You may notice an improvement in your symptoms over time, but continue to use Symbicort as it is considered a maintenance (controller) medication. Only stop using Symbicort when your doctor tells you to. If you suddenly stop taking your medicine, your breathing symptoms may worsen.

Why do I need both a rescue and a maintenance inhaler?

The symptoms of asthma and COPD can be controlled day-to-day with a controller medication, such as Symbicort, that helps to prevent symptoms. You may not need to use your rescue (“quick-acting”) inhaler (such as albuterol) as frequently while taking Symbicort.

However, an asthma attack or COPD flare-up (worsening of symptoms) can still occur, and that’s why you need a rescue medication such as albuterol (brand names: ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin) on-hand at all times. Symptoms can flare-up due to triggers such as pollen, air pollutants, a cold or the flu.

Symbicort is not a replacement for your rescue inhaler for sudden symptoms. It is not approved as a “fast-acting” inhaler for an acute asthma attack or bronchospasm in COPD. Also, do not use a rescue medication as a replacement for your controller (maintenance) medication such as Symbicort.

How fast does Symbicort work?

If you use Symbicort as a maintenance medication for your asthma, your symptoms should begin to improve within 15 minutes of your dose, although results vary between patients. Full improvement may not occur for two weeks or longer after you have started treatment.

In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Symbicort can start to improve your lung function in about 5 minutes. Symbicort may also help to reduce your use of a rescue inhaler for acute COPD flare-ups.

How well Symbicort works also depends upon you taking your medicine every day, as prescribed. It is a maintenance (“controller”) inhaler medication you use long-term for symptom control and to help prevent acute attacks. The usual recommended dose of Symbicort is 2 puffs inhaled twice a day.

Call your doctor if your symptoms do not improve after using Symbicort for one week, or if you are using your rescue inhaler more often than normal. If your symptoms worsen after taking Symbicort, contact your doctor immediately.

Sustained improvement in lung function was seen in 12-month studies for COPD and in 12-weeks in asthma studies.

Bottom Line

  • Symbicort is used for long-term treatment in both asthma and COPD. However, if you have asthma and your symptoms improve to the point where you no longer need a long-acting beta agonist such as formoterol, your doctor may decide to switch you to an inhaler that only contains a corticosteroid.
  • Do not change your inhaler dose or stop your medication without speaking to your doctor first. Your breathing symptoms may worsen.
  • Symbicort will not replace a rescue inhaler for sudden breathing symptoms. You should always have a fast-acting inhaler such as albuterol (brand names: ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin) on-hand for acute asthma symptoms or COPD flare-ups.

This is not all the information you need to know about Symbicort for safe and effective use. Review the full product information here, and speak to your health care provider if you have questions or concerns.


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