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Ventolin, albuterol, salbutamol, ProAir. What is what, and are they the same? Let’s put an end to the confusion.
Ventolin and albuterol are the same things. Albuterol is the generic name of the drug. Ventolin is one brand name. Like facial tissues and Kleenex – they’re all called facial tissues, and Kleenex is just one brand name. So what does it do?
Albuterol is a medication that is used to treat or prevent bronchospasm—which is tightening of the airways caused by asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
It’s a bronchodilator, which is a kind of drug that opens the airways to help you breathe more easily. These drugs are often referred to as puffers or inhalers because they’re usually administered by inhalation (MedlinePlus, 2016).
There are two generic names for this drug: albuterol and salbutamol. You may see these words used interchangeably. The brand names for albuterol inhalers include Ventolin HFA, ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, and ProAir RespiClick. These four medications come in an L-shaped inhaler.
And while you may not know it, there are also other ways to take this medication. One way is called a jet nebulizer. The brand name Accuneb is also albuterol. It comes as a liquid that is converted into a mist using a jet nebulizer device.
To take Accuneb, you wear a mask connected to the nebulizer, turn on the device, and breathe in the nebulized mist for several minutes. This version of an asthma inhaler can be easier to use for young children or anyone for whom using an aerosol or powder inhaler is difficult (MedlinePlus, 2016).
Salbutamol inhaler: relief from asthma and COPD symptoms
Ventolin inhalers: what are they used for?
Albuterol inhalers mainly treat two conditions—asthma and COPD. Both of these conditions can cause coughing and difficulty breathing. Albuterol inhalers all do the same thing. They open up airways to help more air pass through and make it easier to breathe.
Asthma is a relatively common condition, affecting about 7% of people in the United States. It often starts in childhood and is a condition where the lungs are sensitive to specific triggers that don’t affect others (CDC, 2020).
For people with asthma, things like cold air, allergies (like pet dander), or exercise can trigger the airways and start an asthma attack. An albuterol inhaler can be used to relieve wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and a tight chest that are all symptoms of an asthma attack within minutes (Eijiofor, 2013; NIH, 2020).
Albuterol can also be used to treat the symptoms of COPD, a lung disease usually caused by the long-term use of cigarettes. It can also be the result of long-term exposure to pollution, chemicals, or dust. The most common symptoms of COPD are smoker’s cough (a cough that produces phlegm), shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness of the chest.
For both asthma and COPD, albuterol is used as a “rescue” medication, meaning you take it to relieve symptoms once they’ve started. If you have asthma, you likely already know your triggers. You can take albuterol 15-30 minutes before you are exposed to prevent an attack. Keep in mind, though, that albuterol isn’t a cure for asthma or for COPD (FDA, 2012).
In a hospital setting, healthcare providers sometimes use albuterol to treat excessively high levels of potassium in the blood, a condition known as hyperkalemia. Albuterol is also sometimes prescribed to people with severe allergic reactions that cause difficulty breathing (anaphylaxis) (Liu, 2019).
If you’ve experienced an anaphylactic reaction and your healthcare provider prescribes a medication like albuterol, it’s important to remember that when you experience an allergic reaction, you must first use epinephrine (typically prescribed in the form of an EpiPen that you inject in your thigh). Albuterol will not stop an allergic reaction. After using epinephrine, you can use an albuterol inhaler to improve breathing (Irani, 2015).
Whether you have asthma or COPD, albuterol inhalers typically improve symptoms within minutes, reaching peak efficacy after about 2.5 hours. Typically, the drug wears off within four to six hours, so healthcare providers usually advise patients to take albuterol a few times a day (Ejiofor, 2013).
Seek medical attention immediately if (FDA, 2019):
- The medication does not relieve your symptoms
- It becomes harder to breathe after using albuterol, or
- If you find that you need to use more albuterol than usual.
Ventolin side effects
The side effects of albuterol inhalers depend on which medication you take. However, common side effects of aerosol inhalers, powder inhalers, and nebulizers include:
- Sore throat
Depending on which form of the medication you take, side effects can also include nausea or vomiting, dizziness, tremor, muscle or bone pain, or an unpleasant taste in your mouth, among others.
There are also some serious side effects of albuterol inhalers. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms (FDA, 2012):
- Difficulty breathing.
- An irregular or rapid heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Allergic reactions, including rash, hives, itching, or swelling in the face (including throat, eyes, tongue), hands, or lower legs
Ventolin side effects: what you need to know
How much albuterol should I take?
Albuterol dosage depends on the format of your inhaler. The aerosol inhalers Ventolin HFA, ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, and the powdered albuterol inhaler ProAir RespiClick are metered-dose inhalers.
Metered-dose inhalers release the same amount of medicine with each puff of the inhaler. Each time you press the canister to release the drug, you get 108 mcg (micrograms) of albuterol sulfate from the mouthpiece.
The labels all recommend one to two inhalations (puffs) per dose every 4-6 hours as needed or as directed by your healthcare professional. Alternatively, you can take these 15-30 minutes before exercise or another trigger, but space the doses at least 4-6 hours apart (FDA, 2016).
Albuterol is also available as a solution that is inhaled as a mist. The brand name of this form is Accuneb, and it comes in 0.63 and 1.25 mg doses, prescribed according to the patient’s age and severity of symptoms.
If you’ve been prescribed Accuneb, it can usually be used three to four times per day or as directed by your healthcare provider. Each time you use it, empty the full vial of medication into your nebulizer and breathe it in over several minutes until the whole vial of medication is used up.
Do not take more albuterol than your healthcare provider has prescribed. Symptoms of overdose include a fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, nausea, insomnia, nervousness, headaches, or rapid changes in blood pressure (which can present as a pounding headache or dizziness and fainting).
An overdose of albuterol can also result in low blood potassium levels, causing heart problems, muscle spasms, and weakness (FDA, 2012).
Is albuterol a steroid?
No, albuterol is not a steroid. Albuterol is a bronchodilator, which means that it opens up the airways to make breathing easier. Albuterol is what’s called a short-acting beta-2 antagonist (SABA), which means it works quickly and wears off quickly (NIH, 2020).
People may confuse albuterol with steroids because some asthma patients are prescribed a corticosteroid as a “control” medication, in addition to a rescue inhaler. Unlike rescue drugs, control medications like steroids are used regularly to prevent asthma symptoms. Patients using both medications will use the control drug to prevent symptoms and the rescue inhaler to relieve them.
There are also other medications that can help alleviate the symptoms of asthma or reduce the frequency of attacks. These include long-acting beta-2 antagonists (LABA), medications like cromolyn, allergy shots, biological medicines, and more.
It’s important to note that these medications are not a cure for asthma or for COPD. They provide relief of symptoms. If you have asthma or COPD, your healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan just for you. This will depend on your age, the severity of your symptoms, and how well you respond to medications.
You may only need to use a short-term symptom reliever like albuterol, or you may need a combination of medications to help keep your asthma or COPD under control (NIH, 2020).
Getting to know your medications can help you have effective conversations with your healthcare provider and get the right treatment. The brand names may vary, but if you’re using Ventolin, ProAir, Proventil, or Accuneb, you are using the same drug—albuterol.
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI). (n.d.). Asthma and COPD: Similarities and Differences. Retrieved Sep. 22, 2020 from https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Conditions-Library/Asthma/asthma-and-copd-differences-and-similarities
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2020). Most Recent National Asthma Data. Retrieved September 22, 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. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.4137/CCRPM.S7211
- GlaxoSmithKline. (2012). Ventolin HFA (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation Aerosol, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved Sep. 18, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2012/020983s027lbl.pdf
- Irani, A.-M. & Akl, E. G. (2015). Management and Prevention of Anaphylaxis. F1000Research. Retrieved Sep. 16, 2020 from https://f1000research.com/articles/4-1492/v1
- Liu, M. & Rafique, Z. (2019). Acute Management of Hyperkalemia. Current Heart Failure Reports, 16(3), 67–74. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11897-019-00425-2. Retrieved Sep. 15, 2020 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30972536/
- MedlinePlus. (2016). Albuterol oral inhalation. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682145.html
- National Institutes of Health: National Blood, Heart and Lung Institute. (2007). Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Retrieved Sep. 22, 2020 from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/sites/default/files/media/docs/EPR-3_Asthma_Full_Report_2007.pdf
- National Institutes of Health: National Blood, Heart and Lung Institute. (2020). What is asthma? Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/asthma
- Teva Respiratory. (2016). ProAir RespiClick (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation powder, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved Sep. 22, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2016/205636s006lbl.pdf
- Teva Respiratory. (2019). ProAir HFA (albuterol sulfate) Inhalation Aerosol, FDA Approved Label. Retrieved Sep. 15, 2020 from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2019/021457s036lbl.pdf
Yael Cooperman is a physician and works as a Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.