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Drug Profile

The information on this site is intended to supplement and enhance, not replace, the advice of a physician who is familiar with your medical history. Decisions about your health should always be made ONLY after detailed conversation with your doctor.

Generic drug name: albuterol (al BUTTE er all)
Brand name(s): ACCUNEB, PROAIR, PROAIR DIGIHALER, PROAIR HFA, PROAIR RESPICLICK, PROVENTIL, PROVENTIL-HFA, VENTOLIN, VENTOLIN HFA, VOLMAX, VOSPIRE ER
GENERIC: available FAMILY: Beta Agonists
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Generic drug name: pirbuterol (per BUTTE er all)
Brand name(s): MAXAIR
GENERIC: available FAMILY: Beta Agonists
Find the drug label by searching at DailyMed.

Pregnancy and Breast-feeding Warnings [top]

Pregnancy Warning

Albuterol caused malformations in human infants including cleft palate and limb defects. There is no human data for pirbuterol, but it caused abortions and fetal death in animal studies. Because of the potential for serious adverse effects to the fetus, these drugs should not be used by pregnant women.

Breast-feeding Warning

No information is available from either human or animal studies. However, it is likely that these drugs, like many others, are excreted in human milk, and because of the potential for adverse effects in nursing infants, including the potential for cancer with albuterol, you should not take these drugs while nursing.

Safety Warnings For This Drug [top]

Do not stop any asthma medication without first consulting your physician. Abruptly stopping a medication may result in acutely deteriorating asthma control.

Additional Precautions for Asthma

Avoid exposure to things that trigger your allergies or asthma, such as animals, bedding, chemicals, cosmetics, drugs, dust, mold, foods, pollens, or smoke. Wearing a mask reduces inhalation of drugs, pollens, and smoke.

Aspirin can trigger asthma in people who are aspirin-allergic, as can beta-blockers. Infections aggravate lung problems. During epidemics of respiratory illnesses, avoid crowded places and wash your hands frequently to help prevent infection. If you have asthma, get a flu vaccination.

Note: The information in this profile addresses the care of asthma that is not serious enough to need emergency treatment.

This drug can cause or worsen high blood pressure. It is especially dangerous for people who have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or thyroid disease. People over 60 are more likely than younger people to experience effects on the heart and blood pressure, restlessness, nervousness, and confusion.

Facts About This Drug [top]

Inhaled albuterol is used to treat asthma, as well as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Within five minutes it begins to subdue wheezing and improve breathing.

It belongs to the same family as pirbuterol (MAXAIR). According to Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, there is little basis to choose one of this drug family over another.[1]

Albuterol can cause tremors, jitters, and nervousness, especially in older adults.[2] Albuterol has also been found to cause...

Inhaled albuterol is used to treat asthma, as well as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Within five minutes it begins to subdue wheezing and improve breathing.

It belongs to the same family as pirbuterol (MAXAIR). According to Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics, there is little basis to choose one of this drug family over another.[1]

Albuterol can cause tremors, jitters, and nervousness, especially in older adults.[2] Albuterol has also been found to cause benign tumors in the ligament surrounding the ovaries in rats.[3]

If you are taking one of these drugs and are suffering from adverse effects, ask your doctor to change your prescription to the other one. If you are over 60, you will generally need to take less than the usual adult dose of these drugs, especially if you have heart disease.

Whichever of these drugs you take, use only the inhaled form. Do not take the tablets, capsules, or liquids. Because these forms are swallowed, the drug is distributed throughout your body, increasing the risk of adverse effects. An inhaler deposits most of the drug in the lungs, where it is needed.

Before You Use This Drug [top]

Tell your doctor if you have or have had:

  • allergies to drugs
  • an allergy to other sympathomimetic drugs such as the decongestants pseudoephedrine and phenylpropanolamine (PPA)
  • heart or blood vessel disease
  • pheochromocytoma
  • high blood pressure
  • heart rhythm problems
  • pregnancy or are breast-feeding
  • enlarged thyroid

Tell your doctor about any other drugs you take, including aspirin, herbs, vitamins, and other nonprescription products.

When You Use This Drug [top]

  • Check with your doctor immediately if breathing problem persists or if condition becomes worse. Call your doctor if you do not feel better after taking the usual dose, if you still have trouble breathing one hour after a dose, if symptoms return within four hours, or if your condition worsens.
  • Check with your doctor immediately if more than your usual inhalations are needed to relieve an acute attack.
  • If you plan to have any surgery, including dental surgery, tell your doctor that you take an asthma drug.
  • Check with your doctor about anti-inflammatory drug use.
  • Do not take other drugs without talking to your doctor first, especially nonprescription drugs for appetite control, asthma, colds, coughs, hay fever, or sinus problems.

How to Use This Drug [top]

  • Read patient instructions first.
  • If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember, then space remaining doses for the day at regular intervals. Do not take more often than prescribed.
  • Do not share your medication with others.
  • Be careful not to get medicine in your eyes.
  • If using an anti-inflammatory drug, check with your doctor before stopping or reducing amount.
  • Do not store in the bathroom. Do not expose to heat, moisture, or strong light. Do not allow inhaled form to freeze. Keep out of reach of children.

For the aerosol for oral inhalation:

  • Invert the can, then shake well.
  • Exhale as completely as possible.
  • Place mouthpiece into the mouth. Close lips loosely around it. Tilt inhaler upward and head backward, then inhale slowly and deeply while actuating the inhaler. (Some physicians recommend placing inhaler about two inches from the front of the open mouth.) Remove inhaler from mouth. Hold breath a few seconds, then exhale slowly.
  • Avoid contact with the eyes. If you do get drug in your eyes, flush immediately with cool water.
  • Clean the inhaler and plastic mouthpiece with warm water. Save inhaler, as refill canister may be available.
  • Do not puncture, burn, or incinerate the container.

Interactions with Other Drugs [top]

The following drugs, biologics (e.g., vaccines, therapeutic antibodies), or foods are listed in Evaluations of Drug Interactions 2003 as causing “highly clinically significant” or “clinically significant” interactions when used together with any of the drugs in this section. In some sections with multiple drugs, the interaction may have been reported for one but not all drugs in this section, but we include the interaction because the drugs in this section are similar to one another. We have also included potentially serious interactions listed in the drug’s FDA-approved professional package insert or in published medical journal articles. There may be other drugs, especially those in the families of drugs listed below, that also will react with this drug to cause severe adverse effects. Make sure to tell your doctor and pharmacist the drugs you are taking and tell them if you are taking any of these interacting drugs:

flecainide, FLUOTHANE, GLUCOPHAGE, GLUCOVANCE, halothane, imipramine, INDERAL, INDERAL LA, METAGLIP, metformin, propranolol, TAMBOCOR, TOFRANIL.

Adverse Effects [top]

Call your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • hives
  • increased shortness of breath
  • skin rash
  • swelling of face, lips, or eyelids
  • tightness in chest or wheezing
  • trouble breathing

Call your doctor if these symptoms continue:

  • irregular heartbeat
  • headache
  • nervousness
  • trembling
  • coughing or other bronchial irritation
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • dryness or irritation of mouth or throat
  • low potassium
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • drowsiness or weakness
  • muscle cramps or twitching
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • restlessness
  • trouble sleeping

Signs of overdose:

  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • continuing trembling
  • vomiting
  • agitation
  • hallucinations or paranoia with nebulized albuterol
  • seizures
  • fast and irregular heartbeat

If you suspect an overdose, call this number to contact your poison control center: (800) 222-1222.

last reviewed February 28, 2021