Salbutamol by Inhalation

Your child needs to take the medicine called salbutamol (say: sal-BYOO-tah-mawl). This information sheet explains what salbutamol does, how to give it, and what side effects or problems your child may have when he or she takes this medicine.

What is salbutamol?

Salbutamol relaxes the muscles in the walls of the small air passages in the lungs. This helps to open up the airways and helps to relieve chest tightness, wheezing, and cough so that your child can breathe more easily. It is called a bronchodilator or a reliever medicine.

Salbutamol also helps prevent shortness of breath and wheezing during exercise, i.e. exercise-induced asthma.

You may hear salbutamol called by its brand names, Ventolin® or Airomir®. Salbutamol comes in an inhaler, dry powder inhaler (i.e. Diskus), respirator solution, and nebules.

Before giving salbutamol to your child...

Tell your doctor if your child is allergic to salbutamol.

Talk with your doctor or pharmacist if your child has any of the following conditions. Precautions may be needed with this medicine if your child has:

  • heart or blood vessel disease
  • overactive thyroid (hyperthyroid)
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • an irregular heartbeat or rhythm, including a very fast pulse

How should you give your child salbutamol?

  • Give your child this medicine exactly as your doctor or your pharmacist tells you.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before you change the dose.
  • Have your child breathe the salbutamol in through the mouth.
  • If you are not sure how to give your child the salbutamol, ask your pharmacist or the nurse in the Asthma Clinic to show you.
  • If your child has exercise-induced asthma, give salbutamol 15 to 20 minutes before playing or exercise.
  • If your child uses salbutamol with a preventer medicine, use salbutamol first. Salbutamol opens the airways, which lets the preventer medicine enter deeper and better into the lungs.
  • Wait 5 minutes between giving salbutamol and the preventer medicine. Waiting 5 minutes lets the airways become open enough so that the preventer medicine is better absorbed.
  • Your doctor or asthma nurse may give your child a spacer to use with the inhaler for easier delivery. This helps more of the medicine to get into the lungs.

What should you do if your child misses a dose of salbutamol?

  • Give the missed dose as soon as you remember.
  • If it is almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose. Give the next dose at the regular time.
  • Do not give your child 2 doses to make up for 1 missed dose.

How long does salbutamol take to work?

Your child should begin to breathe easier 5 to 10 minutes after taking salbutamol.

What are the possible side effects of salbutamol?

Your child may have some of these side effects while he or she takes salbutamol. Check with your child's doctor if your child continues to have any of these side effects and they do not go away, or if they bother your child:

  • headache
  • shaking
  • fast, slow, or uneven heartbeat
  • nervousness or restlessness
  • bad taste in the mouth
  • nausea or vomiting
  • dry mouth and cough
  • inability to sleep
  • sore throat or mouth and trouble swallowing

Most of the following side effects are not common, but they may be a sign of a serious problem. Call your child's doctor right away or take your child to Emergency if your child has any of these side effects:

  • if your child shows signs of a life-threatening reaction, including: wheezing; chest tightness; fever; itching; bad cough; blue skin colour; swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat; or if your child exhibits any other unusual behaviour
  • if your child is unable to get the breathing attack under control
  • seizures

What safety measures should you take when your child is using salbutamol?

Keep all appointments at the clinic or doctor's office so that the doctor can check your child's reaction to salbutamol. The doctor may need to change the dose so that your child is getting the right amount.

These warning signs indicate that your child's asthma is getting worse and that your child needs to see your doctor:

  • Symptoms become worse or more frequent, such as coughing, attacks of wheezing, chest tightness, or severe breathlessness.
  • Your child wakes up at night with chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath.
  • Your child is missing school or other activities because of asthma.

Reliever medications like salbutamol do nothing for the underlying problem of inflammation. Relievers are only a short-term solution to breathing problems. Monitor how often your child uses their reliever. Increased use over time is telling you the asthma is worsening and your child may need a preventer medication.

If your child also uses a corticosteroid or another bronchodilator (reliever), he/she must continue to use these medicines. Do not stop taking these medicines, even if your child seems better, unless you are told to do so by your doctor.

Check with your child's doctor or pharmacist before giving your child any other medicines (prescription, non-prescription, herbal, or natural products).

What other important information should you know about salbutamol?

Salbutamol does not prevent the warning signs and the danger signs of asthma. Your child may be prescribed a preventer inhaler to be used regularly as well.

Do not share your child's medicine with others. Do not give anyone else's medicine to your child.

Make sure you always have enough salbutamol to last through weekends, holidays, and vacations. Call your pharmacy at least 2 days before your child runs out of medicine to order refills.

Keep salbutamol at room temperature in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Do NOT store it in the bathroom or kitchen.

Do not store near heat (stoves, hot water, radiator, etc) as the inhaler/puffer may explode if heated. Do not put holes in the metal part of the puffer. The contents are under pressure.

Do not keep any medicines that are out of date. Check with your pharmacist about the best way to throw away outdated or leftover medicines.

If your child takes too much salbutamol, call the Poison Information Centre at one of these numbers. These calls are free.

  • Call 416-813-5900 if you live in Toronto.
  • Call 1-800-268-9017 if you live somewhere else in Ontario.
  • If you live outside of Ontario, call your local Poison Information Centre.

Disclaimer: The information in this Family Med-aid is accurate at the time of printing. It provides a summary of information about salbutamol and does not contain all possible information about this medicine. Not all side effects are listed. If you have any questions or want more information about salbutamol, speak to your healthcare provider.

Jennifer Drynan-Arsenault, BSc, RPh, ACPR