AIR (anti-inflammatory reliever)

If you only get asthma symptoms occasionally, your doctor or nurse may prescribe you an anti-inflammatory reliever inhaler, known as AIR to use only when you need to.  

What is an anti-inflammatory reliever (AIR)?

An anti-inflammatory reliever, known as AIR, is a combination inhaler which contains two types of medicine:

  • a steroid anti-inflammatory medicine which treats the inflammation in your airways
  • a reliever medicine called formoterol which quickly opens up your airways when you get asthma symptoms or have an asthma attack.

If you’re on an AIR-only treatment plan, you only use your anti-inflammatory reliever inhaler when you get asthma symptoms.

Some people use this type of combination inhaler as part of a different treatment plan called MART (maintenance and reliever therapy). On a MART treatment plan you take your inhaler every day as prescribed, as well as when you get symptoms. Find out more about MART.

Not all combination inhalers can be used as an AIR inhaler

An AIR inhaler is a combination inhaler containing the reliever medicine formoterol which can quickly treat asthma symptoms.

Not all combination inhalers contain formoterol.

Only combination inhalers containing formoterol, and an inhaled corticosteroid, can be used for an AIR treatment plan.

Ask your doctor or nurse if you’re not sure which type of combination inhaler you’re using.

When is an AIR treatment plan prescribed?

An AIR treatment plan can only be prescribed to adults and children 12 years and over.

Your GP or nurse may prescribe an AIR treatment plan if any of the following apply to you:

  • you only get asthma symptoms occasionally (less than twice a month)
  • you only need help managing your asthma at certain times of the year, for example during pollen season
  • you only need help for symptoms triggered by occasional allergens for example other people’s pets
  • you only need help managing your symptoms when you exercise.

How could an AIR inhaler help you manage your asthma?

When you have asthma, inflammation in your airways can cause asthma symptoms and asthma attacks. Your airways get narrow and inflamed when you come across your asthma triggers, making it harder to breathe.

An AIR inhaler opens up your airways quickly when you have asthma symptoms. And because it also contains a steroid anti-inflammatory medicine it can treat the inflammation which caused your symptoms at the same time. This lowers your risk of having more symptoms or an asthma attack in the future

How is AIR different to a blue reliever inhaler?

An AIR inhaler contains a low dose of a steroid anti-inflammatory medicine. This means it can treat the inflammation in your airways as well as open up your airways.

A blue reliever inhaler does not contain a steroid anti-inflammatory medicine. It opens up your airways, but it cannot treat the inflammation.

If you just use a blue reliever inhaler, even if it’s only now and then, and you do not have a preventer inhaler to use every day, you may be more at risk from worsening symptoms and asthma attacks.

An AIR inhaler lowers your risk

An anti-inflammatory reliever inhaler helps lower your risk of an asthma attack and going to hospital with your asthma because it also treats the inflammation. 

Are there any side effects?

Possible side effects of an AIR inhaler include:

  • Palpitations (awareness of your heart beating), trembling and feeling shaky. These symptoms are usually mild, and usually go away as you carry on using the medicine and get used to it.
  • A sore mouth or oral thrush (a fungal infection in the mouth). This is less likely if you rinse your mouth out afterwards.
  • A mild sore throat or hoarse voice – again, rinsing your mouth out and gargling will help reduce this side effect.

Always speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist if you’re worried about side effects.

How do you use an AIR inhaler?

If you’re on an AIR treatment plan, you use your AIR inhaler only when you have symptoms.

Make sure you always carry it with you so you can use as soon as you notice your asthma symptoms.

You need to take one puff of your AIR inhaler if:

  • you’re wheezing
  • your chest feels tight
  • you’re finding it hard to breathe
  • you’re coughing.

If one puff has not helped, you can take another puff of your AIR inhaler after a couple of minutes.

Talk to your GP or nurse about how many puffs you can take at any one time. And ask them what the maximum daily number of puffs is for your AIR inhaler.

They can write this in your AIR asthma action plan.

As long as you only need to use your AIR inhaler occasionally, as advised by your GP or nurse, you can carry on managing your asthma symptoms this way. 

Do I need a blue reliever as well?

Your AIR inhaler is prescribed as your only inhaler. If you have an AIR inhaler, you do not need a blue reliever inhaler as well.

The reliever medicine in an AIR inhaler is called formoterol. It opens up the airways quickly if you get asthma symptoms.

Always carry your AIR inhaler with you so you can quickly deal with symptoms or an asthma attack.

If your symptoms get worse

If you notice your asthma symptoms are getting worse, and you need to take more puffs of your AIR inhaler in a day, speak to your GP or nurse as soon as possible.

Check your inhaler technique

Your GP, nurse or pharmacist can check your inhaler technique. It’s also quick and easy to check check your technique by watching our inhaler videos. Good inhaler technique is really important to make sure the medicine is getting to your airways where it is needed.

Stepping up to daily maintenance doses

Your GP or nurse may suggest you need to change to a MART (maintenance and reliever therapy) treatment plan. This is where you use the same anti-inflammatory reliever inhaler, but instead of just taking it when you get symptoms, you also take it every morning and evening.

Stepping up to maintenance doses like this can give you extra support to keep inflammation down in your airways. Your GP or nurse may suggest you do this during an infection like a cold or flu, or when your seasonal allergies are worse. 

Find out more about MART (Maintenance and Reliever Therapy)

Other help for your symptoms

Your GP or nurse can also help you work out if there is anything else you can do to help your asthma, such as taking antihistamines, or a steroid nasal spray for hay fever

"Ask your GP or nurse to write down in your AIR action plan what to do if you notice your symptoms getting worse." Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma + Lung UK’s GP.

Speak to your GP or nurse urgently if:

  • your symptoms are getting worse (wheeze, chest tightness, feeling breathless, cough)
  • your symptoms are waking you up at night
  • your symptoms are affecting what you do in your day-to-day life
  • you regularly need to use more puffs of your AIR inhaler a day. 

If you have an asthma attack

You’re having an asthma attack if:

  • it’s difficult to walk or talk
  • it’s difficult to breathe
  • you’re wheezing a lot, or have a very tight chest, or you’re coughing a lot
  • your AIR inhaler is not helping.

What to do in an asthma attack

  1. Sit up straight – try to keep calm.
  2. Take one puff of your AIR inhaler every 1-3 minutes up to 6 puffs.
  3. If you feel worse at any point OR you don’t feel better after 6 puffs call 999 for an ambulance.
  4. If the ambulance has not arrived after 10 minutes and your symptoms are not improving, repeat step 2.
  5. If your symptoms are no better after repeating step 2, and the ambulance has still not arrived, contact 999 again immediately.


If you do not have your AIR inhaler with you, call 999 straight away. 

Your AIR asthma action plan

Use an asthma action plan to help you stay on top of asthma symptoms. An asthma action plan helps you manage your asthma and lowers your risk of an asthma attack.

Fill it in with your GP or nurse so you know:

  • when to use your AIR inhaler
  • what to do if symptoms get worse
  • what to do in an asthma attack.

Download a free AIR asthma action plan here

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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