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Is Symbicort used as a rescue or maintenance inhaler?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on May 20, 2024.

Official answer


Key Points

  • Symbicort (generic name: budesonide and formoterol) is an inhaler medication used as a maintenance treatment to help prevent breathing problems in asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Symbicort is NOT approved to be used as a “rescue inhaler” for fast relief of an acute asthma or COPD bronchospasm attack.
  • A fast-acting inhaler, such as the short-acting beta2-agonist albuterol (examples: ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin), is typically used for acute attacks.

What are the uses for Symbicort?

Symbicort is FDA-approved to control and prevent the symptoms of asthma in adults and children at least 6 years old.

It is also approved to help control the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and reduce flare-ups.

Symbicort comes as a combination inhaler and contains two medicines:

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

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

How does Symbicort come at the pharmacy?

Symbicort comes in two different strengths: budesonide 80 mcg / formoterol 4.5 mcg or budesonide 160 mcg / formoterol 4.5 mcg. Your doctor will prescribe the correct strength that you need for your specific condition. Symbicort is also available as a lower-cost generic option.

The manufacturer of Symbicort is AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca may also be able to provide cost-saving coupons, and online coupons may be available.

Symbicort should be taken as two puffs two times each day, morning and evening, about 12 hours apart. Do not exceed your prescribed dose. Take your Symbicort exactly the way your doctor prescribes it.

Warnings for formoterol

Formoterol is one of the active ingredients in Symbicort. It is classified as a long-acting beta-2 agonist (LABA). LABAs help to relax the muscles around your airways to improve wheezing, cough chest tightness and shortness of breath.

LABAs, when used alone, may increase the risk of hospitalization or death in people with asthma. However, this risk is not increased when budesonide and formoterol are used together as a combination product. If you are taking a LABA without an inhaled corticosteroid for asthma, check with your doctor right away.

Available data do not suggest an increased risk of death with use of a LABA alone in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

It’s important you do not exceed the dose of your LABA, or take other medications that contain a LABA due to elevated risk for dangerous heart side effects.

In addition to formoterol, examples of medications that are LABAs available on the US market include:

  • salmeterol
  • arformoterol
  • olodaterol
  • vilanterol
  • indacaterol

Check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are not sure if your medicine contains a LABA.

Related questions

How much does Symbicort cost?

Symbicort comes as both a brand name product and as a generic. Costs for medications depend upon if you have insurance or pay for the full price out-of-pocket. Prices can differ around the country, in different pharmacies, and if you use a mail-order pharmacy. Online coupons or manufacturer assistance programs may be available to help you save money.

  • The brand name product Symbicort costs about $280 to $380 for one inhaler using an online discount coupon. Higher doses are at the higher end of the cost range.
  • The generic option for Symbicort, known as budesonide and formoterol, costs about $140 to $290 for one inhaler using an online coupon.

According to the manufacturer, the average out-of-pocket cost for Symbicort if you have commercial insurance is around $33 per month. You may be able to get Symbicort for free using AstraZeneca’s Symbicort Savings Offer.

For people with Medicare Part D coverage, the average out-of-pocket cost is $31 per month.

For Medicaid, your cost will probably not exceed $2 per month.

If you are uninsured or have Medicare Part D and still are having trouble paying for medication, challenges, you may be eligible for AstaZeneca’s assistance program, AZ&Me.

Contact AstraZeneca, the manufacturer of Symbicort, if you cannot afford your medication. They may be able to provide you with significant cost savings. Call 1-800-236-9933, Monday through Friday, 8 am to 6 pm ET.

Bottom Line

  • Symbicort is a medication used daily as a maintenance medication to prevent breathing problems in asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is not used as a fast-acting rescue inhaler.
  • You should always have a fast-acting inhaler on hand in case you need it for sudden symptoms. A commonly used fast-acting inhaler is known as albuterol (brand names: ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin). If you do not have a fast-acting inhaler, call your doctor and inquire about getting a prescription. Generic albuterol has recently become very affordable in the U.S.
  • Symbicort is available as a generic but may still be too expensive for you to afford if you do not have insurance. If you cannot afford your Symbicort prescription, contact the manufacturer AstraZeneca, who may be able to offer assistance.

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


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