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Types of Asthma Inhalers

There are different types of asthma treatments available and usage depends on the requirements of individuals; generally it is recommended though that you have both a reliever and a preventer inhaler. Relievers usually help to alleviate the symptoms associated with the onset of an asthma attack whilst preventers help to reduce inflammation of the airways and keep them clear as a normal course of action in preventing symptoms from beginning at all.

Listed below are the four best known types of asthma inhalers:

  • Relievers (short-acting bronchodilators)
  • Long acting bronchodilators)
  • Anti-inflammatories
  • Combination inhalers

Relievers (short acting bronchodilators)

These inhalers are usually referred to as 'emergency' or 'rescue' inhalers. This is because when used they help to quickly relieve symptoms of an asthma attack such as shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness. Some people may even use them before exercise if they are prone to exercise induced asthma. If your asthma is controlled well, then you would not need to use a reliever more than two to three times in a week. If that is not the case, then you may need to talk with your doctor about improving your plan.

Reliever inhalers are necessary to ease the asthma related symptoms and work by relaxing the muscle in the airways, allowing for a better flow of air in and out of the lungs. These treatments are called bronchodilators as they help to dilate (relax) the bronchi (airways). The two main reliever medications are salbutamol and terbutaline. Salbutamol is available in brands such as Salamol, Asmasal, and Ventolin. Terbutaline is available as Bricanyl. If you are looking to purchase a short-acting bronchodilator inhaler, always ensure that you are safe to use it and have been recommended the treatment by your doctor.

Long-acting bronchodilators

This asthma inhaler type usually contains steroids which are inhaled to help in controlling the symptoms. They also have been proven to be effective in patients who have not found relief when using a daily inhaled treatment. It is not recommended that you use long-acting bronchodilators as a long term remedy for asthma. The medication in these inhalers works in a very similar way to that in relievers, and can work for up to 12 hours after use. These include salmeterol (available as Serevent- green inhaler) and formoterol (available as Foradil and Atimos).

Long acting bronchodilators are usually paired with standard steroid inhalers (combination inhalers) when the user is struggling to control their symptoms. Certain brands have even coupled both steroid and long acting bronchodilator for those who require both for controlling their symptoms:

  • formoterol and budesonide in the form of Symbicort
  • salmeterol and flucticasone in the form of Seretide (usually a purple inhaler)

Combination inhalers need to be used with care as using these kind of inhalers frequently to relieve acute symptoms can provide a much higher dose of the steroid than required. Ensure you speak with your doctor if looking to use any combination inhaler treatment in the long term.


Anti-inflammatory inhalers are very important and often life saving treatments that help to prevent asthma attacks by reducing inflammation and swelling of the airways, as well as stifling mucus production which can also block the airways. By making the airways less sensitive to triggers, the treatment makes symptoms less likely to occur. Anti-inflammatory inhalers are usually made up of inhaled corticosteroids which work more effectively in preventing the symptoms associated with asthma.

It must be noted that even though anti-inflammatory inhalers help to prevent asthma symptoms, they cannot relieve the symptoms during an attack. These are usually taken daily as they can provide a long term benefit in controlling asthma symptoms and even providing improvements in just a few weeks of use.

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