English | Español

Asthma Medicines

Related Brands*

Bronkaid, Primatene

What Asthma Medicines Are For

A person who suffers from bronchial asthma has very sensitive air passages called bronchi that may be affected by a number of different things called triggers. These triggers include food, medicine, pets, smoke or other irritants in the air, the common cold, or exercise. When exposed to a trigger, a person may experience shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, or wheezing. Over-the-counter (OTC) asthma medicines, also known as bronchodilators, are medicines that are used to help relieve breathing problems caused by bronchial asthma.

Important Changes to Epinephrine CFC Metered-dose Inhalers


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale and manufacture of over-the-counter asthma inhalers containing chloroflouorocarbons (CFCs), effective January 1, 2012. In September, the FDA issued a statement encouraging users of epinephrine inhalers containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to work with their healthcare providers to identify a replacement product that will likely require a prescription. To view the FDA’s announcement of the change, click here.


How Asthma Medicines Work

Asthma medicines, like all OTC medicines, contain certain active ingredients that make the medicines work in the human body. The product’s active ingredients, including how much of a substance is in each dose, are listed first on the Drug Facts label.

Bronchodilator asthma medicines work by opening air passages narrowed during asthma attacks. Asthma medicine active ingredients are available in tablet form, which are taken by mouth. 

Asthma medicine active ingredients include:

Asthma medicines may also contain other active ingredients to relieve additional conditions such as chest congestion or the build-up of mucus.

*Not all products sold under a brand contain the same ingredients. Please read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully for active ingredient information.

Tips for the Safe Use of OTC Asthma Medicines

  • Always read the OTC Drug Facts label carefully. The label tells you everything you need to know about the medicine including the ingredients, what you are supposed to use it for, how much you should take, and when you should not take the product.
  • You should not use an asthma medicine unless a doctor has told you that you have asthma. Asthma is a serious disease that should be properly diagnosed and monitored by a doctor. If you have asthma, talk to your physician about available treatment options and ways to prevent attacks.
  • You should not use an asthma medicine more frequently or at a higher dose than is directed on the label unless you are under the advice of a doctor.
  • You should not use an OTC asthma medicine if you have ever been hospitalized for asthma unless you are under the direction of a doctor.
  • You should not use an OTC asthma medicine if you are taking a prescription asthma drug unless instructed by a doctor.
  • When using a mist inhaler, be sure to read the package insert for appropriate mouthpiece use and care information.
  • Asthma medicines may interact with certain prescription medicines. Talk to your doctor if you are on a prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) or a prescription drug for depression, a psychiatric or emotional condition, or Parkinson’s disease.
  • Certain individuals may experience nervousness, tremors, sleeplessness, nausea, or loss of appetite. If you are using an asthma medicine and have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.
  • Talk to a healthcare professional before using an asthma medicine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Tips for Parents

All of the tips for the safe use of OTC asthma medicines in this section also apply to children. But like most OTC medicines, there are some additional considerations when it comes to treating kids.

  • Do not use an OTC asthma medicine on any child unless a doctor has diagnosed your child with asthma and a proper course of treatment has been determined.
  • Children should always be supervised when using any asthma medicine.
  • Do not use an OTC asthma medicine containing ephedrine for children under the age of 12.

Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.

Site provided by CHPA Educational Foundation ®

All Rights Reserved CHPA Educational Foundation © 2010

OTCsafety.org content is intended for informational purposes only
and should not be considered medical advice. For more information,
please visit the OTCsafety.orgTerms of Use” page.