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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
If you’ve been prescribed Ventolin, it’s likely you have asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
Ventolin is the brand name for the drug salbutamol (also known as albuterol) and is a bronchodilator that treats breathing problems like wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath are associated with both of these conditions.
Ventolin side effects
Common side effects of Ventolin include coughing, sore throat, and nervousness. Other side effects can be shaking or tremors, nausea, vomiting, muscle or bone pain, chest pain, or runny nose. Get medical advice from a healthcare professional if these side effects don’t go away or if they get worse (NIH, 2016; FDA, 2012).
Some serious side effects of albuterol include chest pain, heart palpitations (pounding or irregular heartbeat), and difficulty breathing. Others include, but are not limited to, difficulty swallowing, rash, itching or hives, or swelling in the face or lower legs. Seek medical help immediately if you have any of these serious side effects.
What is a Ventolin inhaler?
Ventolin is a brand name of the drug salbutamol (also called albuterol). Salbutamol is used to treat breathing problems due to asthma, COPD, or other lung diseases that cause bronchospasm.
Bronchospasm is when airways in the lungs tighten, making it more difficult to breathe. Salbutamol is a bronchodilator, and it relaxes the muscles around the airways, opening them up and allowing more air to pass through (NIH, n.d.).
Salbutamol comes in several forms, but the most common form is Ventolin HFA, an aerosol spray that is inhaled. Ventolin improves your breathing problems within a few minutes, and the effects of the drug typically last anywhere from 4-6 hours (Ejiofor, 2013).
You can also take Ventolin HFA before you experience asthma symptoms. People with asthma usually experience symptoms as a response to a trigger. Once you get to know your triggers, you can take Ventolin HFA preventatively (AAAAI, n.d.).
These could be things in the environment like cigarette smoke (second-hand smoke included), pollution, cold air, pollen, or other allergens like pet dander. Exercise is also a common trigger. Going for a run or feeding your neighbor’s cat? You can reduce or even stop asthma symptoms from starting by taking Ventolin HFA 15-30 minutes before you encounter your trigger.
Ventolin is a short-acting beta-2-antagonist (or SABA) that works quickly to relieve symptoms and wears off quickly, too.
Your healthcare professional may prescribe you Ventolin in combination with a longer-acting medication called a “control medicine.” Control medicines like long-acting beta-2-antagonists (LABA), corticosteroids, or allergy shots can prevent narrowing of the airways and therefore prevent symptoms (NIH, 2020).
Who can use it?
Ventolin HFA and other salbutamol inhalers can be used to treat and prevent bronchospasm in people aged four and older. It’s used mainly for people with two conditions, asthma and COPD.
Asthma is a condition that affects about 7% of the population in the United States, and it usually starts in childhood. It is a long-term condition, and it causes the airways in the lungs to react to certain triggers like smoke, pet dander, and exercise.
When symptoms like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness flare up in response to triggers, it’s called an asthma attack (NIH, 2020).
Unlike asthma, COPD is preventable. COPD is caused by long-term lung damage, most commonly due to cigarette smoking. However, it can also be caused by long-term exposure to pollution, chemicals, and dust (for example, in some workplaces).
Regular exposure to these irritants damages the airways, and people with COPD can have many of the same symptoms as asthmatics. However, they may also have “smokers cough,” a cough that produces phlegm (NIH, n.d.)
Using Ventolin should relieve symptoms like wheezing and shortness of breath quickly. Get medical attention immediately if Ventolin does not help relieve your symptoms or if symptoms become worse after using it. The medication may not be working (Ejiofor, 2013).
Are Ventolin and ProAir the same thing?
Ventolin HFA, ProAir HFA, and Proventil HFA are all brand names of salbutamol aerosol inhalers. Ventolin, ProAir, and Proventil all contain the same amount of salbutamol per inhalation, so if your healthcare provider prescribes you a salbutamol aerosol inhaler, you may receive any of these brands.
Your healthcare provider may suggest you use a spacer along with your HFA inhaler. The spacer helps to get the medication into your lungs (rather than at the back of the mouth) so that you can get the best benefit from the medication (NIH, 2020).
There are also two other inhaler types, one which releases a powder (brand name ProAir Respiclick), and one which is released as a mist from a jet nebulizer and inhaled through a mask (brand name Accuneb). Salbutamol also comes in tablet and syrup formats.
Common side effects of Ventolin inhalers are (FDA, 2012):
- Shaking or tremor
- Headache or dizziness
- Sore throat
- Runny nose
- Chest pain
- Pounding, racing, or fast heartbeat
This does not include all possible side effects. Get medical advice from your healthcare provider if you have any persistent side effects.
Serious side effects include, but are not limited to (FDA, 2012):
- Difficulty breathing: In rare cases, albuterol can make breathing problems worse. This is called paradoxical bronchospasm, which makes wheezing and coughing worse as a result of the drug.
- Heart problems, including a pounding or racing heart or irregular heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Allergic reactions, including a rash, hives, or itching, or swelling of the face (throat, tongue, lips, eyes) or lower legs, feet, and ankles
- Low potassium in blood levels
If you have any of these symptoms, get medical attention immediately.
Do not take more salbutamol than directed by your healthcare provider. It’s possible to overdose.
Symptoms of overdose include high blood pressure or low blood pressure, fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, and angina. It may also present as headache, nervousness, tremor, dry mouth, dizziness, sleeplessness, or feeling very tired or weak.
How much Ventolin should I take?
The dosage of salbutamol depends on the format you’re taking. The below outlines the general guidelines for salbutamol dosage, but follow your healthcare provider’s instructions for the right dose for you.
Ventolin inhalers come in what’s called a “metered-dose inhaler,” which means that each compression of the canister releases a specific amount of the drug. Each “puff,” or inhalation of the Ventolin HFA inhaler includes 108 mcg of albuterol sulfate. A typical dose is two inhalations.
For each inhalation, compress the inhaler canister just once. Take one inhalation, wait one minute, and if you need another, take a second. (One inhalation is enough for some patients.) If symptoms come back, you can take the medication once (up to two inhalations) every 4-6 hours as needed.
Each canister contains either 60 or 200 inhalations. Some inhaler types have a counter that keeps track of how many doses have been used, but if yours doesn’t, you’ll have to count for yourself.
The canister label itself should indicate the number of metered doses it contains. After this point, the inhaler may not release the correct dosage of medication per puff. Dispose of the medication once you’ve used the total number of doses indicated or reached the expiry date, whichever comes first.
If your healthcare provider has asked you to take salbutamol on a regular schedule and you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. However, if it’s nearly time for your next dose, then simply skip the missed dose and resume your regular schedule (NIH, 2016a).
Ventolin syrup and tablets
For some people, salbutamol may be easier to take as a syrup or a tablet. These forms of salbutamol are suitable for patients as young as two years of age. Both tablets and syrups can be taken multiple times per day, usually at the same times each day (NIH, 2016b).
Ventolin syrup contains 2 mg of salbutamol for every 5 ml of the medication. It should be taken 3-4 times per day at the following doses:
- Young children aged 2-6: 2.5–5 mL
- Children aged 6-12: 5 mL per dose
- Children aged 12 and above: 5-10 mL per dose
- Adults: 10 mL, although 5 mL may be sufficient. If required, up to 20 mL at a time.
Ventolin tablets come in 2mg or 4mg tablets. It can also be taken 3-4 times per day at the following doses.
- Children aged 2-12: 2 mg (1 x 2mg tablet)
- Children aged 12 and above: 2 mg-4 mg (1 x 2 mg tablet or 1 x 4 mg tablet)
- Adults: 4 mg is the standard dose, but 2 mg may suffice. Adults may take up to 8mg (2 x 4 mg tablets) if the standard dose is not sufficient.
Do not take more than the recommended doses of salbutamol or dosage as prescribed by your healthcare provider.
- AAAAI (n.d.). Asthma: AAAAI. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Retrieved September 15, 2020 from https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma
- CDC: Most Recent National Asthma Data. (2020, March 24). Retrieved September 02, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/most_recent_national_asthma_data.htm
- Ejiofor, S., & Turner, A. M. (2013). Pharmacotherapies for COPD. Clinical Medicine Insights: Circulatory, Respiratory and Pulmonary Medicine, 7. https://doi.org/10.4137/ccrpm.s7211
- GlaxoSmithKline. (2012). Ventolin HFA (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation Aerosol, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved September 18, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/020983s027lbl.pdf
- NIH: Salbutamol. (n.d.). Retrieved September 07, 2020, from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Salbutamol
Schering-Plough. (1998). Proventil HFA (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation Aerosol, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved September 18, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/020503s039lbl.pdf
- Teva Respiratory. (2019). ProAir HFA (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation Aerosol, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved September 15, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2019/021457s036lbl.pdf
- Yunginger, J. W., Reed, C. E., O’Connell, E. J., Melton, L. J., O’fallon, W. M., & Silverstein, M. D. (1992). A Community-based Study of the Epidemiology of Asthma: Incidence Rates, 1964–1983. American Review of Respiratory Disease, 146(4), 888-894. doi:10.1164/ajrccm/146.4.888 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1416415/
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.