Generic Asthma Inhalers

Controllers, Rescue Inhalers, and Nebulizers

Several inhalers and nebulizer solutions used for treating asthma are available as generic formulations, including albuterol, levalbuterol, ipratropium, budesonide, fluticasone/salmeterol, and others. They are bioequivalent to the brand versions, which means that they are expected to have the same action on the body.

In most cases, brand name inhalers may be more familiar to you than generic versions, especially if you have been using asthma inhalers prior to the approval of these generics. But they are worth exploring with your doctor, pharmacist, and insurer, particularly as generics generally cost less.

Brand-Name Inhaler Examples and Their Generics
Brand Generic Used For
Advair Discus fluticasone/salmeterol  Long-term management
Atrovent asipratropium Acute symptoms
Flonase fluticasone Long-term management
Proventil, Ventolin albuterol Acute symptoms
Pulmicort budesonide Long-term management
Xopenex levalbuterol  Acute symptoms

The number of generic asthma inhalers has been increasing since 2016 and continues to increase as patents expire. Typically, medications that have been around for many years are more likely than new medications to be available in generic versions.

Controllers

Controllers are long-acting inhalers that don't have immediate effects. They are used on a daily basis at scheduled times to prevent asthma symptoms (maintenance therapy).

For example:

  • Fluticasone and budesonide are steroids that reduce inflammation—a factor that contributes to asthma symptoms.
  • Salmeterol is a long-acting bronchodilator (LABA)—a drug that opens the airways in the lungs. It works by stimulating beta receptors in the lungs. This ingredient is a component of the fluticasone/salmeterol combination.

Keep in mind that combination asthma inhalers that contain more than one active ingredient will not necessarily be available in a generic version, even if each of the individual ingredients is available separately as a generic.

Rescue Inhalers

Rescue inhalers are used to stop symptoms once they occur. They work by opening the lung airways quickly, usually without long-lasting effects.

Examples of generic rescue inhalers include:

  • Albuterol, a short-acting beta-agonist (SABA) that opens the airways of the lungs
  • Levalbuterol, also a SABA
  • Ipratropium, an anticholinergic that opens the airways in the lungs by counteracting the action of acetylcholine, which narrows the airways

Nebulizers

A nebulizer is a device that can be used to administer asthma medication quickly. It is often used in the hospital for treating an asthma attack. There are also nebulizers for home use.

You can't place medication from your asthma inhaler into your nebulizer. Rather, if your doctor recommends that you use such a device, they will give you a prescription for your asthma medication as a nebulizer solution formulation.

Generic nebulizer solutions are available, including:

  • Albuterol
  • Budesonide
  • Levalbuterol

This solution gets placed into the machine and you inhale the medication through a fine mist delivered through a mask you wear over your nose and mouth.

Safety and Effectiveness

Generic medications have the same active ingredients as the brand name versions. When it comes to effectiveness, research suggests that switching from a brand name to a generic asthma inhaler does not adversely affect health.

While there are a few drawbacks that have been noted with generic asthma inhalers, they aren't related to the medication itself.

One issue is that some patients stop taking their inhalers when their prescription is switched to a generic version. Research suggests that this may be due to a lack of familiarity with the new dispensing device or a concern that the medication was changed without patient consent.

Furthermore, some combination inhalers are not available as generics. Switching from a brand combination inhaler to separate generics can negatively affect your treatment, as all-in-one options tend to result in better asthma control.

If you're not comfortable with the idea of using multiple inhalers instead of a single combination, or if you are having a problem with your generic medication, talk to your doctor or pharmacist—and be as specific as possible about your concerns. For example, perhaps dexterity issues make one inhaler design easy for you to use than another.

Making a Switch

If you are switching between brand and generic inhalers, you will need to make some adjustments. For example, you might need to learn how to use a new device or store your new medication differently. There can be a learning curve, and you shouldn't hesitate to ask for instructions or a demonstration so you know how to use your inhaler properly.

If you need to prepare your medication for inhalation yourself, know that you usually can't use generic medication in a brand inhaler device, or vice versa. Be careful to avoid mixing them up if your doctor switches your prescription from one to the other.

This can be tricky if you pick up a new version before you have finished using up your old inhaler medicine. Note, too, that packaging for each version may also differ.

When You Don't Want a Generic

You may have your own reasons for solely wanting to use a brand version of your inhaler, and that's fine.

Know, though, that your health insurer might require that you try a generic medication for a specified period of time before they agree to approve a brand version.

You might also have to pay a higher co-pay for a brand drug than you would for a generic.

If you don't want the generic version of your inhaler, make sure your doctor writes a prescription specifically for the non-generic formula. Some insurers require that pharmacists default to the generic unless otherwise noted.

A Word From Verywell

You might be using several asthma medications to prevent and alleviate your symptoms. Typically, brand medications have the brand name and the generic name on the container, which can help you keep track of all of your medications so you won't take more than one version of the same thing.

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