Albuterol: 6 things you should know
Medically reviewed by C. Fookes, BPharm. Last updated on Oct 29, 2018.
1. How it works
- Albuterol is a bronchodilator - this means it relaxes muscles in the airways, widening them and allowing more air to flow into the lungs.
- Albuterol preferentially acts on beta2 receptors, which are the predominant receptors in the smooth muscle of the bronchi (the breathing tubes). It is thought to exert its effects by increasing the concentration of an important cellular messenger (cyclic AMP), which relaxes smooth muscle and prevents the release of histamine and other mediators from mast cells.
- Albuterol belongs to the class of medicines known as bronchodilators. It is also called a short-acting beta agonist (SABA).
- Allows adults and children aged over the age of six (applies to tablets) or four (applies to inhalation) with asthma or other types of reversible airway disease to breathe easier (relieves bronchospasm).
- Albuterol inhalation is useful at treating exercise-induced bronchospasm.
- Available as an inhaler, a nebulizing solution and as a tablet.
- Generic albuterol inhalers, nebulizing solutions, and tablets are available.
If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, take no other medication or have no other medical conditions, side effects you are more likely to experience include:
- Tremor, a headache, and nervousness.
- May sometimes affect heart rate and blood pressure, possibly causing chest pain and palpitations. This is because beta2 receptors are also present in the heart, at concentrations of approximately 10-50%. Seek medical advice if these side effects occur. ECG changes have also been reported.
- Albuterol may not be suitable for some people with cardiovascular disease, arrhythmia, high blood pressure, seizures, or an overactive thyroid.
- May aggravate diabetes and cause low potassium levels.
- Very rarely, may cause a paradoxical bronchospasm (instead of opening the airways it closes them). Discontinue immediately and contact emergency services.
- May interact with other drugs including antidepressants, beta-blockers, diuretics, and digoxin.
Notes: In general, seniors or children, people with certain medical conditions (such as liver or kidney problems, heart disease, diabetes, seizures) or people who take other medications are more at risk of developing a wider range of side effects. For a complete list of all side effects, click here.
- If you use an albuterol inhaler, ask your pharmacist or doctor to check that you are using it correctly. You may need to prime your inhaler before first use, or shake it prior to use. Follow the instructions provided.
- Most inhalation devices require regular cleaning or else they will clog. Follow the instructions provided on how to clean your device and mouthpiece
- Store your device at room temperature away from heat, cold, open flames and moisture. Do not puncture or burn an empty canister.
- Avoid spraying into the eyes. Rinse eyes with water if this happens by accident.
- Albuterol relieves breathlessness but does not reduce inflammation. Needing to use albuterol more frequently than usual may be a sign that your asthma is destabilizing and you should seek immediate medical advice for a re-evaluation of your treatment regimen and the possible need for anti-inflammatory treatment (such as corticosteroids) to heal the airways. Deterioration of asthma can occur quite quickly over several hours, or it may take days or weeks.
- Albuterol alone is usually not enough to achieve good asthma control in most adults and children with asthma. Corticosteroids (such as budesonide [Pulmicort] or fluticasone [Flovent]) are often also needed.
- Always keep albuterol on hand at all times, and refill your prescription before you run out completely. Keep using all other medications as prescribed by your doctor.
- Seek emergency help if you have signs of an allergic reaction (breathing difficulties, facial swelling, hives), chest pain or fast heart rate, pain or burning when you urinate, signs of high blood sugar (increased thirst, increased urination, hunger, dry mouth), or signs of low potassium (such as leg cramps, irregular heartbeat).
6. Response and Effectiveness
- Effects of albuterol usually last four to six hours, sometimes eight hours or longer. Unless your doctor has told you to, resist the temptation to increase the dose of albuterol or to take it more frequently if the effects appear to be wearing off sooner. Instead, seek medical attention immediately, as this can be a sign of deteriorating asthma control that can be masked by albuterol overuse.
- Albuterol can also be fatal if too much is taken. If you think somebody has taken too much albuterol, seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
Albuterol [Package Insert]. Revised 07/2018. Rising Pharmaceuticals, Inc. https://www.drugs.com/pro/albuterol.html
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use albuterol only for the indication prescribed.
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