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Bronchodilator medicines make breathing easier by relaxing the muscles in the lungs and widening the airways (bronchi).
They are often referred to as bronchodilators. Some bronchodilators also help clear mucus from the lungs and reduce inflammation.
Read more about how bronchodilators work.
Bronchodilators are often used to treat conditions that cause airways to narrow or become inflamed, such as:
- bronchiectasis – a lung condition where the airways are abnormally widened
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – permanent lung damage usually caused by smoking
Types of bronchodilator
Bronchodilators are often inhaled, but are also available in tablet and syrup form and as an injection. There are two types of bronchodilator medicines, they are:
- short-acting bronchodilators – which provide short-term relief from breathlessness
- long-acting bronchodilators – which have longer-lasting effects and, if used regularly, can help control conditions such as asthma
The three most widely used bronchodilators are:
- beta-2 agonists
Read more about the possible side effects of bronchodilators.
When bronchodilators are not recommended
People with certain health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) and prostate cancer, should either not use bronchodilators or use them with caution as directed by an appropriately qualified healthcare professional.
Speak to your GP if you regularly take bronchodilators and are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Asthma can affect your pregnancy, so it is important it is well controlled. Using medication to treat asthma during pregnancy and while breastfeeding is usually considered safe.
Read more about things to consider when using bronchodilators.
Interactions with other medicines
Bronchodilators may interact with other medicines, which could affect the way they work or increase your risk of side effects.
Medicines that may interact with bronchodilators include:
- antidepressants, including monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and tricyclic antidepressants
- medication used to treat Alzheimer’s disease
- medication used to lower potassium levels, such as certain diuretics
Always check with your GP or pharmacist before taking a bronchodilator with any other prescription or over-the-counter medicine.