Bronchodilators: Uses, most common brand names, and safety information
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Therapeutic vapors and aerosols have been used to treat lung conditions such as asthma for thousands of years. The first known therapeutic aerosol use dates back to around 1550 BC in Egypt. Fast forward to the last half of the 19th century and the delivery techniques for inhaled medications started to advance with the introduction of nebulizers and dry powder inhalers (DPIs).
The first metered dose inhaler (MDI) was launched in 1956 and by the 1980s, they were the preferred delivery system of aerosolized medications to the lung. A metered dose inhaler (MDI) is a small, pressurized canister of medicine in a plastic holder with a mouthpiece. Two albuterol (salbutamol) MDIs were brought to the market in 1981 and are still used as quick-relief or rescue medications.
The list below includes the best bronchodilators available over-the-counter or by prescription and their pricing:
List of bronchodilators
|Proventil HFA (albuterol sulfate)||Proventil HFA is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease and exercise-induced bronchospasm.
|ProAir HFA (albuterol sulfate)||ProAir HFA is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease and exercise-induced bronchospasm.
|ProAir Respiclick (albuterol sulfate)||ProAir Respiclick is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease and exercise-induced bronchospasm.
|Ventolin HFA (albuterol sulfate)||Ventolin HFA is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease and exercise-induced bronchospasm.
|Perforomist (formoterol)||Perforomist is indicated to treat bronchoconstriction in patients with COPD.
|Xopenex (levalbuterol)||Xopenex is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease.
|Xopenex HFA (levalbuterol)||Xopenex HFA is indicated in the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm with reversible obstructive airway disease.
|Striverdi Respimat (olodaterol)||Striverdi Respimat is indicated to treat airflow obstruction in patients with COPD.
|Serevent Diskus (salmeterol)||Serevent Diskus is indicated to treat or prevent bronchospasm from exercise, COPD, or asthma.
|Atrovent HFA (ipratropium)||Atrovent HFA is indicated in the treatment of bronchospasm associated with COPD.
|Tudorza Pressair (aclidinium)||Tudorza Pressair is indicated in the maintenance treatment of COPD.
|Spiriva HandiHaler (tiotropium bromide)||Spiriva HandiHaler is indicated in the treatment of asthma and bronchospasm associated with COPD.
|Spiriva Respimat (tiotropium bromide)||Spiriva Respimat is indicated in the treatment of asthma and bronchospasm associated with COPD.
|Incruse Ellipta (umeclidinium bromide)||Incruse Ellipta is indicated in the maintenance treatment of patients with COPD.
Some other combination medications that contain bronchodilators include:
What are bronchodilators?
Bronchodilators are a type of medication used to manage symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. By helping open up your airways (bronchi), they can help relieve wheezing, shortness of breath, cough, and chest tightness.
The are 2 types of bronchodilators are:
- Short-acting bronchodilators. Short-acting beta-2 agonists (SABAs), such as Proventil HFA (albuterol sulfate), are used to quickly relieve acute asthma symptoms such as breathlessness. Their effects typically last 3 to 6 hours.
- Long-acting bronchodilators. Long-acting beta-2 agonists (LABAs) are used daily for the long-term prevention of asthma attacks or to reduce symptoms of COPD. These medications can last for up to 12 hours. LABAs are typically prescribed as a combination product that contains an inhaled corticosteroid. Your doctor will also frequently combine different types of bronchodilators to help manage your condition.
How do bronchodilators work?
There are 3 main mechanisms bronchodilators use to relieve or prevent symptoms:
- Beta 2-agonists. Beta-2 agonists open (dilate) by relaxing the smooth muscles in your airways. They work by activating the beta-2 receptors in these muscles, which opens up your airways. This allows increased airflow and reduction of symptoms. Regular use of these medications can cause a reduction in their effectiveness and may require higher doses to work.
- Anticholinergic bronchodilators. These medications target receptors in the parasympathetic nervous system to block the effects of acetylcholine in your airways. This helps open the airways and reduce bronchial secretions.
- Theophylline. Theophylline is classified as a methylxanthine. It works by relaxing the smooth muscles in your airways and suppressing the response of your airways to stimuli. Theophylline is typically used if you have failed other therapies.
What conditions are bronchodilators used to treat?
Bronchodilators are used to treat or prevent lung diseases and conditions such as:
- Exercise-induced asthma
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
Are bronchodilators safe?
When taken as prescribed, bronchodilators are safe and effective. Make sure your healthcare provider is aware if you have any of the following:
- Heart disease
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat)
- Hypokalemia (low potassium levels)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Kidney impairment
Can you take bronchodilators while you are pregnant or breastfeeding?
According to the CDC, guidelines recommend that pregnant women with asthma should continue to use medication to manage their condition. Safety data on using these medications during pregnancy is very limited.
There is also limited data on the use of bronchodilators while breastfeeding but it is not thought to pass into breast milk in large amounts. Inhaled bronchodilators are thought to be generally acceptable for use during lactation.
You should discuss the need for any medication with your doctor if you are pregnant, plan on becoming pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
What are the common side effects of bronchodilators?
Some common adverse effects of bronchodilators include:
- Heart palpitations
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle cramps
- Dry mouth
- Problems urinating
Bronchodilators can sometimes cause severe adverse events, including:
- Sudden constriction of the airways (paradoxical bronchospasms)
- Low potassium levels
- Heart attack
- Acute delirium in elderly patients
- Allergic reactions
This is not a complete list of side effects and we encourage you to consult with your healthcare professional for medical advice about any possible side effects.
How much do bronchodilators cost?
Bronchodilators are very expensive with an average cost of around $10,000 per year.
You can purchase bronchodilators for $49 per month from NiceRx if eligible for assistance. Prices at the pharmacy vary by location, strength, and quantity, as well as your insurance status.
Related resources for bronchodilators
The content on this website is intended for information purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice. The information on this website should not be relied upon and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always speak to your doctor regarding the risks and benefits of any treatment.