Prescription short-acting beta2-agonists for asthma include:
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Short-acting beta2-agonists are available in inhaled, pill, liquid, and injectable forms. The inhaled form is available in metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) and as a liquid for compressor-driven nebulizers. Inhalers may be used differently, depending on the medicine used. Always read the directions to be sure you are using the inhaler correctly.
Short-acting beta2-agonists are bronchodilators. They relax the muscles lining the airways that carry air to the lungs (bronchial tubes) within 5 minutes, increasing airflow and making it easier to breathe. They relieve asthma symptoms for 3 to 6 hours. They do not control the inflammation.
Short-acting beta2-agonists are used to:
Medicine treatment for asthma depends on a person’s age, his or her type of asthma, and how well the treatment is controlling asthma symptoms.
Your doctor will work with you to help find the number and dose of medicines that work best.
Short-acting beta2-agonists are the treatment of choice for relieving symptoms during asthma attacks and for treating intermittent asthma symptoms.1 They are also used to relieve symptoms caused by exercise.
Research shows that combining short-acting beta2-agonists and ipratropium in acute, severe asthma episodes, compared with using only beta2-agonists, resulted in:2
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Call your doctor if you have:
Common side effects of this medicine include:
Side effects of short-acting beta2-agonists are more likely to occur when using the pill, liquid, or injectable forms than when using the inhaled form.
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
Because short-acting beta2-agonists work quickly to reduce symptoms, people sometimes overuse these medicines instead of using the slower-acting, long-term medicines. But overuse of quick-relief medicines has harmful effects, such as decreasing the future effectiveness of these medicines.3
If you need to use short-acting beta2-agonists on more than 2 days a week (except before exercise), you may need to start or increase long-term therapy. Discuss this with your doctor.
Short-acting beta2-agonists are the best treatment for quick relief of asthma episodes and for emergency situations. Using the inhaled form of a short-acting beta2-agonist is preferred for asthma treatment, because it:
Try to avoid giving your child an inhaled medicine when he or she is crying. In this case, not as much medicine is delivered to the lungs.
Short-acting beta2-agonists should be used for intermittent asthma and quick relief of symptoms. They should not be used alone for persistent asthma.
Colds or other upper respiratory infections can cause asthma episodes in some people. Some doctors recommend that people who have intermittent asthma use a short-acting beta2-agonist at the first sign of cold symptoms.4
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
- National Institutes of Health (2007). National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma (NIH Publication No. 08–5846). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/index.htm.
- Dennis RJ, et al. (2010). Asthma in adults, search date June 2008. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
- Salpeter SR, et al. (2004). Meta-analysis: Respiratory tolerance to regular beta2-agonist use in patients with asthma. Annals of Internal Medicine, 140(10): 802–813.
- Mellins RB, et al. (2000). Developing and communicating a long-term treatment plan for asthma. American Family Physician, 61(8): 2419–2426.
Last Revised: April 19, 2012
This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.