Ephedrine Vs. Albuterol for Asthma

The strategy for treating asthma hasn’t changed much in over a century. The three-pronged approach still starts with acute rescue treatment, then controller treatment, and finally prevention of long-term complications.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

The medications used to treat asthma, however, have changed significantly. Fast-acting or quick relief medications are taken at the first sign of symptoms to provide immediate relief. Long-term control medications are prescribed for everyday use to prevent asthma attacks and symptoms.

[Albuterol] provides quick relief from asthma symptoms by relaxing muscles that line the airways.


Introduced in the United States in the 1920s, ephedrine is one of the older asthma medications. Although newer medicines are now available, products containing ephedrine are still sold over-the-counter. Some people use ephedrine products to treat mild cases of asthma.

This decongestant and bronchodilator belongs to a class of drugs called alpha-adrenergics. It enables you to breathe better by expanding your airways and reducing swelling in your nasal passages. However, before starting any asthma medication or treatment plan, consult your doctor first.

Ephedrine Side Effects

Be sure to tell your doctor if you are using ephedrine and watch for any of these side effects:

• Inability to sleep • Nervousness • Anxiety • Lack of appetite • Nausea • Rapid heat beat and increased blood pressure • Shaking or tremors • Retention of urine

Neither the Mayo Clinic nor American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI) include ephedrine among recommended treatments for asthma. However, the ACAAI does include other medications in its stepwise approach for managing asthma, including:

• Inhaled corticosteroids • Cromolyn • Montelukast • Nedocromil • Theophylline • Zileuton • Omalizumab • Leukotriene receptor antagonists • Long-acting beta-agonists • Short-acting beta-agonists, such as albuterol


Albuterol is a mainstay asthma medication that is classified as a short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs). It provides quick relief from asthma symptoms by relaxing muscles that line the airways. It can be breathed in by using an inhaler. It also is available in liquid and tablet form.

Albuterol Side Effects

More common, but less serious side effects of this short-acting beta-agonist include:

• Nervousness • Restlessness • Irritability

Less common, but more serious side effects include:

• Fast heart beat • Irregular heart beat • Shaking or tremor

Only a qualified specialist can accurately diagnose asthma and distinguish it from other, related respiratory diseases. Be sure to get professional advice before you begin treating yourself with home or over-the-counter medications.

About the Author

Boyan Hadjiev, MD, has been a practicing physician for five years. He is double board certified in Internal Medicine, (2003), and Allergy and Immunology, (2005).

Dr. Hadjiev graduated from University of Michigan with a BA in biology and an MD from Cleveland Clinic-Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.