What fast-acting bronchodilators (or "rescue" or "quick relief" medications) are used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?

There are several fast-acting bronchodilators for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These include:

  • Albuterol (Ventolin®, Proventil®, Airet®)
  • Albuterol sulfate (ProAir HFA®)
  • Levalbuterol (Xopenex®)
  • Metaproterenol sulfate (Alupent®, Arm-a-Med®, Metaprel®)
  • Pirbuterol acetate (Maxair®)
  • Terbutaline sulfate (Brethair®, Brethine®, Bricanyl®)
  • Bitolterol mesylate (Tornalate®)

What do fast-acting bronchodilators do, and how are they supplied?

These medicines do the following things:

  • Quickly relax muscles that tighten around the airways, making the airways wider and breathing easier
  • Help clear mucus from the lungs-as the airways open, the mucus can move more freely and can be coughed out more easily
  • Relieve acute shortness of breath

The products are available in several forms:

  • Metered dose inhaler
  • Rotahaler inhalation device
  • Nebulizer solution
  • Tablets
  • Liquid

What are the possible side effects of fast-acting bronchodilators?

These symptoms are temporary and may include:

  • Dizziness, headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Nervousness, tremor
  • Palpitations, rapid heart beat, increased blood pressure

Note: The side effects listed are the most common. Always contact your health care provider if you have questions about your personal situation.

How and when do you take fast-acting bronchodilators? Are there special instructions?

  • These products should be taken before other inhalers.
  • Use to quickly relieve shortness of breath.
  • Swallow any tablets whole; do not chew or crush tablets.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/21/2014..#14316