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.
It can also be given using a nebuliser, but this is usually only if you have severe asthma or COPD. A nebuliser is a machine that helps you breathe in your medicine as a mist, using a mask or a mouthpiece. You can use a nebuliser in hospital or you may be given one to manage your condition at home.
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 when you need it. 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.
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 had an allergic reaction to salbutamol or any other medicines in the past
- 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 malabsorption. This is because many salbutamol products contain lactose. You should not have lactose if you have these illnesses
If you have a lactose intolerance, however, the amount of lactose in salbutamol products is too small to cause you any problems.
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)
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.
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
Make an appointment to see your doctor, pharmacist or nurse if you need to use your inhaler:
- more than 4 times in 24 hours
- more than 2 days of each week
- in the middle of the night at least once a week
Your salbutamol inhaler works quickly to make your breathing easier.
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. This is so you get the right amount of salbutamol into your lungs and the most benefit from it.
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 (but no chest pain)
- muscle cramps
These side effects aren’t dangerous and they should gradually improve as your body gets used to salbutamol.
Contact your doctor or pharmacist 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.
Call a doctor straight away if you get:
- muscle pain or weakness, muscle cramps, or a heartbeat that doesn’t feel normal – this can be a sign of low potassium levels
- very bad dizziness or you pass out
- chest pain, especially if you also have a fast heartbeat or your heartbeat doesn’t feel normal
- a very bad headache
Serious allergic reaction
It is possible to have a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to salbutamol.
What to do about:
- 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.
- Faster heartbeat for a short while – make sure you are not taking more than the prescribed dose. If this happens regularly, talk to your doctor or nurse as you may need your treatment reviewed so that you don’t need to use your salbutamol as often.
- Headaches – make sure you rest and drink plenty of fluids. Do not drink too much alcohol. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a painkiller. Headaches should usually go away after the first week of taking salbutamol. Talk to your doctor if they last longer than a week or are severe.
- Muscle cramps – if you get unusual muscle ache, which isn’t from exercise or hard work, talk to your doctor.
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 and breastfeeding
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.
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.
How does salbutamol work?