Bronchodilators are medicines used to relax the smooth muscle around the airways to "open up" the lungs. They can relieve spasm in these muscles as well. This group of medicines is used to treat asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, bronchitis and other causes of bronchospasm. They can be administered by inhaler, nebulizer, oral pills or injection.

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Albuterol is a short-acting drug commonly known by the brand names Ventolin or Proventil. It begins to work quickly, but its effects are not particularly long lasting. Because of these properties, it is often called a "rescue" medication 2. Possible side effects include jitteriness, shakiness, increased heart rate, lightheadedness and headache. Rarely, it may cause a paradoxical bronchospasm and worsening of the condition it is used to treat 2. Albuterol has FDA approval for use in those over age 4.


This drug is very similar to albuterol in its chemistry and its actions. It is sold as a generic or by the brand name Xopenex. It is also short acting. This bronchodilator is inhaled and is available in a nebulizer solution or in an inhaler. Levalbuterol is approved for use down to age 4.


This drug is related to both Albuterol and Levalbuterol and has similar properties. It is only available as the brand name Maxair in an "autohaler," which is breath activated. Maxair is not to be used by children.


This medicine, available under the brand name Serevent, is a long-acting bronchodilator. It takes longer to have effect, but lasts longer than others. For this reason, it is not to be used in "rescue" situations. It comes in a Diskus inhaler alone or in combination with another medicine. Increased heart rate, tremor, nervousness and headache may occur. Approval for use down to age 4 years has been obtained.


This bronchodilator is sold under the brand name Foradil or Perforomist. It is also a long-acting medicine. It comes in a dry powder inhaler or in solution for use in a nebulizer. Due to its mechanism of action, this drug may cause tremors, a racing heart, insomnia, lightheadedness or headaches. Use in children as young as age 5 is FDA approved.


Considered a long-acting bronchodilator, Theophylline is taken orally. Possible adverse reactions are irritability, stomach upset, heart palpitations or rhythmn disturbances, or seizures. There are many drug interactions to be concerned about. Use in children down to age 6 weeks is FDA approved.


A nebulized medicine available under the brand name Brovana, Aformoterol is a long acting bronchodilator. It has the same side effect profile previously discussed for Salmeterol and is not approved for children.


A different mechanism of action sets Ipratropium apart, although it is still considered a short-acting bronchodilator. It is available in an inhaler or solution for nebulization. Ipratropium is frequently used in combination with Albuterol. Possible side effects include cough, dry mouth and blurred vision. FDA approval goes down to age 12 years.


Tiotropium, sold under the brand name Spiriva, is longer acting than Ipratropium. It comes in capsules for use in a Handihaler device 2. More frequent adverse reactions include cough and dry mouth, although a slowing of the heart conduction system is possible. Use in children is not FDA approved.