Salbutamol inhaler

Salbutamol is used to relieve asthma and COPD symptoms. These include coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless. 

It comes in an inhaler (puffer). It's usually blue. You might get salbutamol as a liquid if you cannot use an inhaler very well.

Talk to your GP or pharmacist if you:

  • need to use your inhaler more than 2 times a week
  • are waking at night due to asthma symptoms once a week or more

Salbutamol is only available on prescription.

Common brand names for salbutamol inhalers include Ventolin, Salamol and Salbul.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or go to an emergency department (ED) immediately if you or your child:

  • are struggling to breathe
  • have asthma symptoms that are not getting better

Asthma attacks can get worse very quickly.

Serious side effects

It happens rarely, but some people may have very serious side effects when taking salbutamol.

Immediate action required: Call your GP or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) immediately if you:

  • get muscle pain or weakness, muscle cramps, or a heartbeat that does not feel normal – this can be a sign of low potassium levels
  • chest pain, especially if you also have a fast heartbeat or your heartbeat does not feel normal
  • a very bad headache
  • have heart disease and get chest pain, shortness of breath or worsening heart disease symptoms
  • do not feel better after taking salbutamol in the last 3 hours

Serious allergic reaction

You can get a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) to salbutamol. This is an emergency.

Immediate action required: Call 999 or 112 or go to an emergency department (ED) immediately if:

  • you get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
  • you're wheezing
  • you get very bad dizziness or you pass out
  • you get tightness in the chest or throat
  • you have trouble breathing or talking
  • your mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat start swelling
  • you have low blood pressure and faint

You should also stop using salbutamol.

Check if you can take salbutamol

Salbutamol can be taken by adults and children of all ages.

It's not suitable for people with certain health problems.

Tell your GP before starting salbutamol if you:

  • have had an allergic reaction to any medicines in the past
  • have a medical condition, including thyroid problems, heart disease, heart problems, diabetes or asthma
  • take other medicines, including medicines you buy from a pharmacy, herbal remedies or supplements
  • have a rare inherited digestive disorder of galactose intolerance, the Lapp lactase deficiency or glucose-galactase malabsorption
  • are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, think you might be pregnant or breastfeeding

Pregnant

Talk to your GP if you are pregnant, think you may be pregnant or trying to get pregnant and you use salbutamol.

They will be able to give you advice on how to manage your asthma during pregnancy.

Breastfeeding

Talk to your GP if you are breastfeeding and you use a salbutamol inhaler. A small amount of medicine passes into breast milk.

Your GP can give you advice on how to manage your asthma while breastfeeding.

When you start taking salbutamol

Your inhaler will work almost immediately to make your breathing easier. It carries on working for about 5 hours.

Salbutamol can make you feel dizzy or shaky.

If this happens, do not drive, cycle or use tools or machinery until you feel better.

Avoid smoking

Try not to smoke. Smoking irritates the lungs and will make your breathing problem worse.

Speak to your GP or pharmacist about stopping smoking.

Sign up to a Quit plan

How long you need to take salbutamol

Most people will use salbutamol for many years.

You or your child might be able to use salbutamol less often when your breathing is better.

Keep your inhaler with you all the time so you can use it as soon as you have breathing problems.

Do not stop taking salbutamol unless your GP tells you to.

Your breathing problems could get worse if you stop taking it.

How and when to use salbutamol

You might be prescribed salbutamol to prevent breathing symptoms happening. But you’ll usually only use it when you need it. 

Use your inhaler if:

  • you're coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest
  • you know that you are going to do an activity that can make you breathless, for example climbing stairs or sport

The normal way for adults and children to use their inhaler is:

  • 1 or 2 puffs of salbutamol when you need it
  • up to a maximum of 4 times in 24 hours (whether you have 1 puff or 2 puffs at a time)

You should feel a difference to your breathing within a few minutes.

Do not take more than 8 puffs in 24 hours.

Always use your inhaler exactly as you GP or pharmacist has told you. Check with your GP or pharmacist if you are not sure. 

If your usual treatment is not working, talk to your GP. Do not increase your dose without talking to them.

Get help to use your inhaler

To get the most from your inhaler, have your technique checked regularly.

Ask your GP or pharmacist to watch you use your inhaler if:

  • you're not sure how to use your inhaler
  • you have not had your technique checked for a year

Watch videos of correct inhaler technique on the Asthma Society of Ireland website

Use a spacer with the inhaler

If you or your child find it difficult to use an inhaler, your GP may give you a spacer to use with it.

A spacer is a large plastic container with a mouthpiece and a hole for the inhaler.

Spacers are useful for giving salbutamol to children.

Your GP or pharmacist can show you how to use a spacer with the inhaler.

You might also be given a machine to help you breathe in your medicine (a nebuliser). This is usually only if you have severe asthma or COPD.

If you take too much salbutamol

You may notice the following if you take too much salbutamol:

  • your heart beats more quickly than normal 
  • you feel shaky
  • you have a headache

Urgent advice: Go to an emergency department (ED) or phone your GP immediately if you:

  • use more puffs than your GP has told you to
  • someone else uses your inhaler without prescription

Make an appointment to see your GP, pharmacist or nurse if you need to use your inhaler:

  • more than 4 times in 24 hours
  • more than 2 days of each week
  • in the middle of the night at least once a week

Side effects

You might get any of the following common side effects after taking 1 or 2 puffs of the inhaler:

  • feeling shaky
  • faster heartbeat for a short while (but no chest pain)
  • headaches

Side effects should improve as your body gets used to salbutamol.

Contact your GP or pharmacist if these or any other side effects bother you or do not go away.

Taking salbutamol with other medicines

Tell your GP or pharmacist if you are taking, have recently taken or might take any other medicines. This includes medicines you take without a prescription and herbal remedies and supplements.

You can take salbutamol if you have lactose intolerance.

Finding your patient information leaflet online

Your patient information leaflet (PIL) is the leaflet that comes in the package of your medicine.

Information:

To find your PIL online, visit the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) website

  1. In the ‘Find a medicine’ search box, enter the brand name of your medicine. A list of matching medicines appears.
  2. To the right of your medicine, select ‘PIL’. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window. 

You can also:

  1. Select the brand name of your medicine.
  2. Scroll down to the Documents section.
  3. From the Package Leaflet line, select PDF version. A PDF of the PIL opens in a new window. 

If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website opens in a new window when you select ‘PIL’.

You can find your PIL on the EMA website.

Finding your PIL on the EMA website

If your PIL is not on the HPRA website, you will be sent to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) website.

To find your PIL on the EMA website:

  1. In the Medicines search box, enter the brand name of your medicine and the word ‘epar’. For example: ‘Zoely epar’. A list of matching medicines appears.
  2. Select the ‘Human medicine European public assessment report (EPAR)’ for your medicine
  3. From the table of contents, select Product information.
  4. Select the EPAR – Product Information link for your medicine. A PDF opens in a new window. The PIL information is in Annex III of the PDF under ‘labelling and package leaflet’

This content was fact checked by a pharmacist, a GP, the National Medication Safety Programme (Safermeds) and the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA).

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 24 September 2021
Next review due: 24 September 2024

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