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When should you use Symbicort?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on May 18, 2023.

Official answer


Key Points

  • Symbicort (generic name: budesonide and formoterol) should be taken as two puffs two times each day, morning and evening, about 12 hours apart.
  • Symbicort is a combination inhaler that contains two medications, budesonide and formoterol, to control symptoms and improve lung function in patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Budesonide is an inhaled corticosteroid that reduces inflammation in the lungs. Formoterol is a long-acting inhaled bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways to improve breathing.
  • Symbicort is not a “rescue inhaler” and is not used for treating an acute asthma or COPD bronchospasm attack. A fast-acting inhaler, such as the short-acting beta-2 agonist albuterol, is typically used for acute attacks.

What conditions are Symbicort used for?

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

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

In asthma, your doctor may prescribe Symbicort if your asthma is severe or not well-controlled on other long-term asthma medicines such as an inhaled corticosteroid. If your symptoms improve and you are well-controlled, your doctor may discontinue use of Symbicort.

Symbicort is not used as a short-acting “rescue” inhaler for sudden symptoms of wheezing or difficult breathing.

How should I take Symbicort?

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

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.

Formoterol, one of the active ingredients in Symbicort, is 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 and death in people with asthma. However, this risk is not increased when budesonide and formoterol are used together as a combination product like Symbicort.
  • While taking Symbicort, do not use any other medicine containing a LABA for any reason. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your other medicines contain LABAs.

Related Questions

How well does Symbicort work?

How well Symbicort works depends upon you are taking the medication as prescribed.

In asthma, your symptoms may start improving within 15 minutes, although full improvement in your symptoms may not occur for 2 weeks or longer after you have started treatment.

Symbicort comes in different strengths for asthma, and if your symptoms do not improve after one to two weeks, your doctor may increase your dose.

In COPD, Symbicort can start improving your lung function within 5 minutes, although results can vary between patients. Symbicort may also help to reduce your use of a rescue inhaler for acute COPD symptoms like difficulty breathing.

Call your health care provider 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.

What can worsen my asthma symptoms?

Asthma attacks often start due to a trigger - an allergen, food, substance or medical condition that initiates your symptoms. You should learn to recognize your triggers and try to avoid them.

Your triggers may include:

  • Dust mites and animal dander
  • Mold
  • Trees, grass, weeds and pollens
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Strong chemicals or odors
  • A respiratory infection such as a cold, flu or sinus infection
  • Heartburn (acid reflux)
  • Sulfites found in certain foods
  • Extreme temperatures, intense exercise
  • Certain medications: aspirin, NSAIDs (example: ibuprofen, naproxen); some beta blockers

What if I miss my dose of Symbicort?

If you miss your dose of Symbicort, you should just take your next dose at the same time that you normally take it. Do not double up on your dose.

Bottom Line

  • Symbicort should be taken as two puffs two times each day, morning and evening, about 12 hours apart.
  • It is a maintenance medication for ongoing treatment of asthma or COPD. Symbicort is not used as a rescue inhaler.
  • This product comes in two different strengths. Your doctor will prescribe the correct dosage for your condition.
  • Do not double up on a dose if you miss it. Just take your next dose at the regularly scheduled time.

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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