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What does Symbicort do to the lungs?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on June 3, 2020.

Official Answer

by Drugs.com

Key Points

  • Symbicort (generic name: budesonide and formoterol) helps to reduce inflammation, relax the muscles around your airways, and open up your lungs to make breathing easier.
  • Symbicort is used for maintenance treatment of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is not approved for use as a quick-acting rescue inhaler. It is considered a controller medication.
  • Symbicort comes as a combination inhaler and contains two medicines: budesonide, which is an inhaled corticosteroid that works by reducing inflammation in your lungs and formoterol, a long-acting beta-2 agonist (LABA) inhaled bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways to improve breathing.

Asthma and COPD are chronic conditions that are usually controlled with long-term treatment. You may notice an improvement in your symptoms over time, but continue to use Symbicort twice a day (morning and evening) 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 leading to flare-up.

How do the medicines in Symbicort work?

Symbicort contains two medications that work together to ease your breathing symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.

Budesonide is an inhaled corticosteroid (also called a glucocorticoid or “steroid”) that reduces inflammation (swelling) in your lungs. Corticosteroids work by opening up your airways so you can breathe more freely. Budesonide has been approved by the FDA since 1997 for treatment of asthma.

Formoterol is classified as a long-acting beta-2 agonist (LABA) medication and is considered a bronchodilator. LABAs can help relax the smooth muscles around the airways in your lungs, making breathing easier. Formoterol has been approved by the FDA since 2001.

  • LABAs, such as formoterol, when used alone, can increase the risk of hospitalizations and death from asthma problems. When an inhaled corticosteroid like budesonide and a LABA like formoterol are used together, this risk is not significantly increased.

Symbicort, with both budesonide and formoterol combined in one inhaler, has been approved since 2006 and is approved for use in 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).
  • It is also approved 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.

How quick does Symbicort work in asthma?

If you use Symbicort for asthma, your symptoms should start improving within 15 minutes of your inhalation.

Full improvement in your symptoms may not occur for 2 weeks or longer after you have started treatment. Results can vary between patients.

How quick does Symbicort work in COPD?

In chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Symbicort can start improving your lung function within 5 minutes, although your results may be different than other patients.

Symbicort may also help to reduce your use of a rescue inhaler for acute COPD symptoms.

Can I ever stop using Symbicort?

Asthma and COPD are chronic conditions that are usually controlled with long-term, daily treatment. You may notice an improvement in your symptoms over time, but continue to use Symbicort inhaler twice a day (morning and evening) as it is considered a maintenance (controller) medication.

When used for asthma, your doctor may prescribe Symbicort if your asthma is severe or not well-controlled on other long-term asthma medicines. If your asthma symptoms improve and you are well-controlled, your doctor may decide to discontinue use of Symbicort. Only your doctor should make this decision.

If you suddenly stop using your Symbicort inhaler, your breathing symptoms may worsen leading to an asthma attack or COPD flare-up. Only stop using Symbicort when advised by your doctor.

Bottom Line

Symbicort is a long-term maintenance (controller) medication used to treat asthma or COPD. Symbicort contains two medications that work together to reduce inflammation and open the airways in your lungs. This can help to tame your symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath over the long-term.

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.

Do not change your inhaler dose or stop your medication without speaking to your doctor first. Your breathing symptoms may worsen.

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

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