What Do Different Inhaler Colors Mean?

Inhalers are medical devices used to deliver a dose of medication into your lungs to improve your breathing. You breathe in (inhale) to get the medicine into your airways, and it can be used for conditions like asthma, COPD, bronchitis, and more.

Many manufacturers use consistent colors on the inhaler to show the kind of medication in the device. This makes it easier to identify the right inhaler at a glance.

This article discusses the different types of inhaler colors that are typically used for each kind of medication.

Hand Holding Asthma Inhaler Outdoors
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Types of Inhalers

The medications inside inhalers have different ways they work and are prescribed for various reasons.

Relievers (Rescue Inhaler)

Relievers, or fast-acting rescue inhalers, are used when quick relief is required. These medications quickly open the airways and relieve sudden, acute symptoms. They take effect fast but also wear off in a shorter time than other inhaled medications. Reliever inhalers include Albuterol, Xopenex (levalbuterol), and Atrovent (ipratropium).


Preventers (controllers) are medications to help manage symptoms and prevent acute attacks. Depending on your prescription, they can be taken daily or multiple times a day.

Inhaled corticosteroids can be used as one type of preventer medication. They help to reduce the response of the immune system and decrease overall inflammation of the respiratory system. Medications include Asmanex (mometasone), Flovent (fluticasone), and Pulmicort (budesonide).

Long-Acting Bronchodilators

Long-acting bronchodilators (LABA) relax and open up the airways. This makes breathing easier and helps prevent asthma attacks. They also help prevent shortness of breath even when you are triggered by allergens or exercise. Some medications include Serevent (salmeterol), Foradil (formoterol), and Borvana (formoterol tartrate).

Use the Right Inhaler

Long-acting bronchodilators should not be used for an acute asthma attack or severe difficulty with breathing. Be sure you understand the types of inhalers and know when to use them.

Combination Therapy

Some drug manufacturers combine steroid medications with LABAs. These are often called combination inhalers. Your healthcare provider will let you know if this medication is right for you.

Different Inhaler Colors and Their Meanings

In many cases, standard colors are used to identify different inhalers, making it easier to choose the right inhaler and medication. When looking for the color for your inhaler, look at the core color of the case. Cap colors can be misplaced on the wrong inhaler by mistake.


Blue is most commonly the color of reliever or rescue inhalers. Blue was chosen because most rescue inhalers are short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs), rapidly relaxing the airways' muscles.


Brown inhalers typically are for preventer or controller medications that contain inhaled corticosteroids. These medications take longer to have the desired effect and should be taken regularly for the best results.


Green inhalers tend to be for long-acting beta-agonist preventer medication, most often used to help reduce symptoms of respiratory conditions like asthma or COPD. These must also be taken regularly and are for control. They do not treat acute (sudden) symptoms.

Orange or Yellow

Orange or yellow inhalers usually mean it's a preventer medication, although some preventer medications in yellow inhalers are reliever or rescue inhalers. Flovent (fluticasone) is one common medication found in orange or yellow inhalers.

Red, Pink, or Purple

Inhalers that are red, pink, or purple are often combination medications. For example, Advair is a purple disk that combines a steroid and a LABA (fluticasone and salmeterol). Symbicort is a red inhaler that is a combination of budesonide and formoterol.

As new medications are developed, they may follow standard color-coding guidelines, use old standard colors for new kinds of medications, or they may come in completely new colors. Be sure to read your medication labels carefully and know which drugs you have in your home.

Do the Colors Always Follow This System?

Unfortunately, the color-coding system is optional, and each inhaler manufacturer gets to determine what color to use when making an inhaler device. There are no drug laws about the colors used for inhalers.

In one journal article, there was a call for universal color coding for inhalers with standardized color dots. For inhalers with two or more medications, multiple colored dots were recommended. However, many years later, there is no standard color system.

A survey of individuals and healthcare providers showed that most people use color as a shortcut for the kind of medication inside the inhaler. However, inconsistent colors for inhalers may be risky if you do not read the medication labels carefully.

Be sure you understand your inhaler medications, the reasons they have been prescribed, and how you should take those medications. Do not rely on the color or appearance of the inhaler itself. Be sure to read the medication label with the name every time. Speak with your medical team if you have any questions or concerns about your prescriptions.

When to Contact Your Healthcare Provider

Contact your healthcare provider if you need to use an inhaler more often than usual, if your symptoms are not getting better with your inhalers, or if you have new or worsening breathing problems.


Many inhalers are manufactured following a standard color system. The inhaler's color can help you be aware of the medication inside. However, there are no regulations for inhaler colors in the United States or worldwide.

A Word From Verywell

When you feel short of breath or have an asthma attack, you may reach for your inhaler to help ease your symptoms. Be sure that every time you use an inhaler, you confirm that you read the medication label and use the correct inhaler. Different kinds of inhalers have different effects on your body, and you want to use the right one at the right time.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are red inhalers used for?

    Red is one of the inhaler colors that can be used for different kinds of medications. One red inhaler contains the rescue medication albuterol. Another red inhaler is a combination therapy of a corticosteroid and a LABA. Be sure to read your labels so you take the correct medication.

  • Which color inhaler is the preventer?

    Preventer inhalers are often brown or green. Brown is typically used for inhaled steroids. Green may contain long-acting beta-agonists (LABA). Preventer inhalers often help reduce symptoms for up to 12 hours.

  • Are blue inhalers always relievers?

    Blue inhalers are often relievers, but that is not always true. Some manufacturers make reliever inhalers in red. Be sure you know your inhaler medications and why you take them. Discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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