Salbutamol is used to relieve symptoms of asthma and COPD such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless. It works by relaxing the muscles of the airways into the lungs which makes it easier to breathe.
Salbutamol comes in an inhaler (puffer). Salbutamol inhalers are usually blue.
Salbutamol is sometimes given as tablets, capsules or syrup for people who can't use an inhaler very well.
This medicine is only available on prescription.
- Salbutamol inhalers are safe and effective with few side effects if you use them as advised by your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.
- Salbutamol inhalers are called 'reliever' inhalers because they give you quick relief from breathing problems as required, only when you need them. In most cases, you will be given another inhaler to 'prevent' your symptoms and you should use this regularly every day.
- If you need to use your salbutamol inhaler more than 3 times a week, it could be a sign that your breathing problem is not well controlled. Talk to your doctor, pharmacist or nurse.
- Salbutamol is safe to use in pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
- Common brand names for salbutamol inhalers include Ventolin, Airomir, Asmalal, Easyhaler, Pulvinal, Salamol, Easi-Breathe and Salbulin.
Who can take salbutamol
Salbutamol can be taken by adults and children of all ages.
Salbutamol isn't suitable for people with certain health problems.
Check with your doctor before starting salbutamol if you:
- have an allergy to another type of medicine
- take other medicines including ones you buy from a pharmacy, herbal remedies or supplements
- have a rare inherited digestive disorder of galactose intolerance, the Lapp lactase deficiency or glucose-galactase maladsorption. This is because many salbutamol products contain lactose. You should not have lactose if you have these illnesses. The amount of lactose in salbutamol products is too small to be a problem for people with lactose intolerance
How and when to take
Only use your salbutamol when you need it. This may be when you notice symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest or you know that you are going to do an activity that can make you breathless, for example climbing stairs or sport. You should feel a difference to your breathing within a few minutes.
The normal way for adults and children to use their inhaler is:
- 1 or 2 puffs of salbutamol when you need it
- up to a maximum of 4 times in 24 hours (regardless of whether you have 1 puff or 2 puffs at a time)
Up to a maximum of 4 times in 24 hours, only when you need it
Salbutamol is sometimes prescribed to prevent breathing symptoms happening in the first place. This could be before a trigger such as exercise or exposure to pets. In this situation, the normal dose is still 1 or 2 puffs at a time.
In a sudden asthma attack you can take more salbutamol, up to 10 puffs, but you should wait 30 seconds and always shake the inhaler between doses. You can repeat this dose 10 minutes later.
Asthma attacks can get worse very quickly. If you or your child are struggling to breathe or have asthma symptoms that are not getting better, go to hospital immediately or call an ambulance.
If you need to use your inhaler more than 4 times in 24 hours:
- it may mean that your health problem is getting worse and that you need different treatment
- you are more likely to get side effects such as increased heart rate, jitteriness, nervousness and headaches
What if I take too much?
You may notice that your heart beats more quickly than normal and that you feel shaky. These side effects usually pass within 30 minutes or a few hours at most and are not dangerous.
Serious asthma attacks
Salbutamol can be given through a nebuliser to treat severe asthma attacks. A nebuliser is a machine that delivers the medicine as a mist inhaled through a face mask. This will probably be given to you by your doctor.
How to use your inhaler
Your salbutamol inhaler works quickly to make your breathing easier.
It's important that you get the most from your inhaler so you should have your technique checked regularly.
Inhalers can be difficult to use and mistakes in the technique can mean very little of the medicine gets into your lungs where you need it. Before using your inhaler, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. This leaflet gives you information and diagrams to show you how to use the inhaler, how to keep it clean, and how long to use it before getting a replacement.
It's very important that you use your inhaler properly so you get the right amount of salbutamol into your lungs and the most benefit from it.
Using a spacer with the inhaler
If you or your child find it difficult to use an inhaler, your doctor may give you a spacer to use with it.
A spacer is a large metal or plastic container with a mouthpiece and a hole for the inhaler. When used with the inhaler it makes it easier to get the right amount of salbutamol into the lungs.
Spacers are especially useful for giving salbutamol to young children.
Your doctor, pharmacist or nurse can show you how to use a spacer with the inhaler.
Salbutamol is a safe and very effective medicine if you use it properly. It has very few side effects.
Common side effects
More than 1 in 100 people have these side effects after taking 1 or 2 puffs of their inhaler:
- feeling shaky
- faster heartbeat for a short while
- muscle cramps
These side effects aren't dangerous and they should soon go away.
Contact your doctor if these or any other side effects bother you or don't go away.
Serious side effects
It happens rarely, but some people may have very serious side effects when taking salbutamol.
Tell a doctor straight away if you develop:
- muscle pain or weakness, muscle cramps, or a heartbeat that doesn't feel normal – this may be a sign of low potassium levels
- very bad dizziness or passing out
- chest pain, a fast heartbeat or a heartbeat that doesn't feel normal
- very bad headache
Serious allergic reaction
The warning signs of a serious allergic reaction are:
- skin rash
- tightness in the chest or throat
- having trouble breathing or talking
- unusual hoarseness
- swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat
How to cope with side effects
Some of the common side effects of salbutamol will gradually improve as your body gets used to it.
- feeling shaky – see if your asthma or COPD symptoms get better with just 1 puff of your inhaler rather than 2. If you find you need 2 puffs for symptom relief, be reassured that the shakiness will wear off after a short time.
- dizziness – if salbutamol makes you feel dizzy when you stand up, try getting up very slowly or staying sitting down until you feel better again
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
Salbutamol is generally considered safe to use in pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Some women find that their asthma gets better during pregnancy, some see no change at all, and for others it will be worse.
Always tell your health professional that you are pregnant.
If you have asthma, your doctor will most likely recommend that you continue to use your salbutamol inhaler during pregnancy. They will be able to give you advice on how to manage your asthma during pregnancy.
The risks of having serious asthma attacks during pregnancy are much worse than the risks of using salbutamol. Asthma attacks in pregnancy can prevent your baby from getting enough oxygen.
Salbutamol may pass into breast milk in very small amounts.
In general though, you can use your salbutamol inhaler as normal while you're breastfeeding. The amount of medicine that passes into breast milk is so small that it's unlikely to harm the baby.
Cautions with other medicines
Some medicines can interfere with the way salbutamol works.
If you're taking other prescribed medicines that do not mix well with salbutamol your doctor will decide whether the benefits of taking both medicines outweighs the risks.
Mixing salbutamol with herbal remedies or supplements
There are no known problems with taking herbal remedies and supplements with salbutamol.
However, for safety, speak to your pharmacist before taking any herbal or alternative remedies.
How does salbutamol work?
How long does salbutamol take to work?
How long will I need to use my salbutamol inhaler for?
Are there other inhalers?
Is it safe to use a salbutamol inhaler for a long time?
Do I need to keep a salbutamol diary?
Can I drink alcohol with it?
Can I smoke if I use a salbutamol inhaler?
Can I drive or ride a bike?