Medication Guide for Albuterol Inhalers

An albuterol inhaler is a quick-relief or rescue medication used to decrease asthma symptoms. Albuterol can decrease acute symptoms associated with worsening asthma such as:

Albuterol may also be used to lessen breathing problems associated with other non-infectious respiratory problems. Additionally, albuterol may be used to prevent exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or asthma.

Mid-adult man inhaling asthma inhaler, close-up
IAN HOOTON / SPL / Getty Images

How Often to Use an Inhaler

If you are not familiar with the concept of a rescue and controller inhaler in an asthma action plan, make sure you get this on your asthma to-do list. Your goal should be to not need your rescue inhaler very often. My goal for patients is to only need one per year. If you are using your rescue inhaler daily or even more than a couple of times per week, your asthma is poorly controlled and you need to take action. A frequent rescue inhaler is a risk for more serious asthma complications that could land you in the hospital or emergency department. All of the following indicate that your asthma is poorly controlled and that you need to take action:

  • You have symptoms 2 or more days per week
  • Your asthma awakens you at night more than twice per month
  • You use your rescue inhaler more than twice per week
  • You feel that your normal everyday activities are impaired by asthma
  • Your peak flow or FEV1 are diminished from a baseline level

If you have any of these symptoms you should consider seeing your asthma doctor for a review of your asthma action plan to decide the next steps.

How It Works

An albuterol inhaler is a short-acting beta-agonist that works as a bronchodilator. These medications improve asthma symptoms by relaxing the muscles in the airways that tighten during an asthma attack. When the medication takes action, the airways in the lung increase in size and allow air to move more freely.

How It Is Prescribed

Albuterol and other beta-agonists can be prescribed in both oral and inhaled forms. However, the inhaled forms are the preferred method for taking beta-agonists.

Inhaled albuterol and other beta-agonists can be dispensed as a:

Each inhalation or puff in an albuterol inhaler delivers 90 micrograms of medication. You can normally use 2 puffs every 4 hours as needed to relieve asthma symptoms. If you are using an albuterol MDI to prevent exercise-induced asthma or bronchoconstriction, the recommended action is 2 puffs 15 to 30 minutes before exercise or physical activity.

Common Brand Names

Many of the following drugs come in several forms such as an MDI and a solution for nebulization.

  • Proventil HFA
  • Ventolin HFA
  • Proair HFA
  • Xopenex HFA
  • Alupent

Side Effects

A number of side effects with an albuterol inhaler should be reported to your asthma doctor as soon as possible. These include:

  • Allergic reactions like skin rashes or hives
  • Chest pain or chest tightness
  • Dizziness
  • Fast or irregular heart rate
  • Fever or chills
  • High blood pressure
  • Visual changes
  • Worsening breathing

A number of other side effects may not require medical attention, but you should let your asthma doctor know if they continue. These side effects include:

  • Anxiousness
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Hoarseness
  • Itching
  • Tremor
  • Vomiting and feeling sick at your stomach

It is also important to let your healthcare provider know if you take any of the following medications because of possible drug interactions:

  • Beta blockers like Atenolol or Toprol
  • Digoxin
  • Diuretics like Lasix
  • MAO inhibitor antidepressants like Nardil

What You Need to Know

Short-acting albuterol and other beta-agonists should not be used regularly for the control of asthma. People who might benefit from being placed on an inhaled steroid like Flovent or Pulmicort or a combination agent like Advair include those who:

  • Awake from cough more than 2 nights per month
  • Use a rescue inhaler more than twice per week
  • Have asthma symptoms more than twice per week
  • Have symptoms that interfere with their daily activities

Additionally, it is important to know how to appropriately use your inhaler and how long your inhaler will last.

When to Call Your Healthcare Provider

In addition to the side effects previously mentioned, it is important to let your healthcare provider know if your symptoms are not resolving appropriately or if you are using a rescue inhaler more frequently.

7 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.
  1. MedlinePlus. Albuterol oral inhalation.

  2. Colice G, Calhoun WJ. Section 2. Exercise-induced bronchospasm: Albuterol versus Montelukast: Highlights of the Asthma Summit 2009: Beyond the guidelines. World Allergy Organ J. 2010;3(2):23-30. doi:10.1097/WOX.0b013e3181d25eac

  3. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. Don't confuse "rescue" and "maintenance" inhalers.

  4. American Lung Association. Assess and monitor your asthma control.

  5. American Association for Respiratory Care. Pulmonary disease aerosol delivery devices.

  6. Prescribers' Digital Reference. Albuterol sulfate - drug summary.

  7. American Lung Association. Severe asthma.

Additional Reading

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.