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Salbutamol (Ventolin)

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 4 minutes read

Salbutamol, also known as salbutamol sulphate is the active ingredient in the “blue reliever” inhaler used to support respiratory conditions. It is also commonly known by the branded name Ventolin. This prescription-only medication can also come in tablet, capsule or nebules for people cannot use their inhaler as well. Salbutamol, also known as albuterol in some regions, belongs to a class of drugs called short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs), which work by relaxing the muscles in the airways, thereby improving airflow to the lungs.

How does salbutamol work?

Salbutamol exerts its therapeutic effects by binding to "beta-2 adrenergic" receptors located on the cells lining the airways. This binding activates a cascade of intracellular events that relax the airway's smooth muscle, expanding the airways and improving airflow. By dilating the bronchial tubes, salbutamol helps alleviate symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath associated with asthma exacerbations.

Who is it for?

The primary use of salbutamol is to help relieve breathlessness in patients with respiratory conditions like asthma, COPD and is suitable for most adults and children. Triggers such as allergens and exercise can cause the airways to tighten, leading to breathlessness. This is when the inhaler is most required. Unlike other inhalers, salbutamol works with 5 minutes of inhalation, giving almost instant relief.

Forms of salbutamol and how to use

Salbutamol is available in various dosage forms, including metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), dry powder inhalers (DPIs), nebuliser solutions, and oral tablets. The recommended dosage and administration instructions may vary depending on the specific formulation and the severity of the patient's condition. MDIs and DPIs deliver the medication directly to the lungs through inhalation, rapidly relieving symptoms. Nebuliser solutions are aerosolised and inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece, making them suitable for individuals with difficulty using inhalers. Oral tablets are less commonly used and are typically reserved for specific situations, such as severe exacerbations or long-term management of COPD.

Salbutamol vs. other inhalers

In addition to salbutamol, several other inhalers are available for the treatment of asthma and COPD. These include long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs), inhaled cortico-steroids (ICS), combination inhalers containing both LABAs and ICS, and other bronchodilators. While salbutamol is a short-acting bronchodilator used for quick relief of acute symptoms, LABAs provide long-term control of asthma symptoms by maintaining bronchodilation over a 12-24 hour period. ICS, on the other hand, reduce airway inflammation and are often used as maintenance therapy to prevent asthma exacerbations. Combination inhalers containing both LABAs and ICS offer the benefits of both medications in a single device, providing both symptom relief and long-term control.

Can I get salbutamol over the counter?

In the UK, salbutamol inhalers are available on prescription. Patients with a confirmed diagnosis of asthma or COPD can obtain salbutamol inhalers through a prescription from their healthcare provider. Additionally, individuals who have been previously diagnosed with asthma and have get a regular prescription and have run out of your inhaler. You may be able to get an inhaler if you have run out and need it urgently. You may be able to get an emergency supply from your local pharmacy. This is at you local pharmacists discretion.

How to use salbutamol

Depending on which brand of salbutamol you may have, the instructions on how to use it may differ.

  • For Ventolin, start by removing the cap and shake the canister gently.
  • Hold the inhaler with your thumb on the base below the mouthpiece and your index finger on the top of the canister.
  • Breathe out as far as is comfortable.
  • Without breathing back in, place the mouthpiece in your mouth and close your lips around it.
  • Breathe in through your mouth normally.
  • Just before a deep breath, press down on the top of the canister and take a deep steady breath.
  • Remove the inhaler from the lips and hold your breath for a few seconds, or as long as is comfortable.
  • Allow for at least 30 seconds before you take another puff

Are there any side-effects?

As with all medications, there is the potential for serious side effects, such as an allergic reaction. You should stop taking salbutamol and seek urgent medical attention if you develop a skin rash, swelling of your tongue, mouth, lips, face or throat.

If you have high blood pressure, diabetes, low potassium or any queries before starting to use salbutamol, you should speak with your pharmacist or doctor.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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