Bronchodilators such as albuterol (sold under the brand names Ventolin or Proventil) are used to prevent and treat breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness caused by asthma, lung complications in cystic fibrosis (CF), and other diseases. They work by relaxing and opening air passages to the lungs to make breathing easier.
How bronchodilators work
In most cases, bronchodilators are used before administering other treatments, such as mucus thinners, airway clearance techniques, and antibiotics. This enables the medication to relax the airways and allow patients to breathe in other medications more deeply. They are also used to prevent breathing difficulties during exercise.
People with CF usually take bronchodilators through a device that releases the correct amount of medication with each use, called a metered dose inhaler. Sometimes they can be taken through dry powder inhalers or nebulizers, as well. They are rarely taken as a pill or given as an injection in people with cystic fibrosis. Albuterol controls symptoms of asthma and other lung diseases but does not cure them.
Bronchodilator users may experience the following side effects: headache and dizziness, insomnia, cough, hoarseness, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, mild nausea and vomiting, dry mouth and throat, anxiety, muscle pain, or diarrhea.
Although bronchodilators are commonly used in CF, there are few long-term studies to evaluate the chronic effects of bronchodilator treatment. One placebo-controlled crossover study of 27 patients found that one month of albuterol treatment improved peak flow measurements only in participants with a positive pre-treatment bronchoprovocation study.
Another nonrandomized observational study found that FEV1 improved during a year of treatment, compared with a decline in FEV1 in participants that were not taking the drug. However, a subsequent placebo-controlled, double-blind study in 21 participants failed to show that albuterol was superior to a placebo, although the power to detect such a difference was low.
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