Find out more about long-acting bronchodilator inhalers (LABA inhalers), why they are sometimes given as an add-on treatment, and why you must continue to use your preventer inhaler as well.
What is a long-acting bronchodilator inhaler (LABA)?
Long-acting bronchodilator inhalers (LABAs) relax the muscles around your airways to help keep your airways open.
They’re called long acting because the effect lasts at least twelve hours. This is different to the short-acting bronchodilator in your reliever inhaler, which lasts only four hours.
Examples of LABA inhalers include Serevent (salmeterol), Foradil (formoterol), and Striverdi (olodaterol).
Theophylline is another kind of long-acting bronchodilator medicine which comes as a tablet. You can read more about theophylline here.
LABAs are not steroids. That’s why it’s so important that you continue to take your usual steroid preventer inhaler. Your LABA inhaler keeps your airways open. Your steroid preventer keeps the inflammation down.
When is a LABA prescribed?
LABAs are prescribed as an add-on treatment to lower the risk of asthma symptoms A LABA gives extra support if you’re still getting asthma symptoms, even though you’re taking your steroid preventer inhaler regularly as prescribed.
LABA inhalers can be prescribed to both adults and children over 5.
They can be prescribed as an additional inhaler, to use alongside your preventer inhaler. Or in a combination inhaler containing the LABA and a steroid preventer.
Use your LABA as an add-on treatment
You use your LABA inhaler every day, as prescribed.
A LABA should never be the only asthma treatment you use. You need to use your LABA inhaler alongside:
- Your usual steroid preventer inhaler. This is to treat the inflammation in your airways, which the LABA cannot do. You need to take your preventer inhaler, and any other preventer medicine you’re prescribed, such as montelukast, every day.
- Your reliever inhaler (usually blue). This deals with symptoms, or an asthma attack, quickly. Your LABA cannot help if symptoms get worse or you have an attack. Always keep your reliever inhaler with you.
Ask your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist how to use your LABA inhaler in the best way. If your LABA inhaler is a metered dose inhaler (not a dry powder inhaler) it’s best to use it with a spacer. You can also watch our videos on how to use inhalers.
Why it’s safer to use LABA in a combination inhaler
A combination inhaler has two medicines in one inhaler – a LABA to relax the muscle around your airways and your usual preventer to reduce inflammation.
If you’ve been prescribed a LABA, then having it in a combination inhaler is safer than using two separate inhalers. You must always use a steroid preventer inhaler with your LABA and a combination inhaler makes this easier to do.
Symbicort (budesonide with formoterol), Seretide (fluticasone with salmeterol) and Fostair (beclometasone and formoterol) are examples of combination inhalers which include both a long-acting bronchodilator and a steroid preventer. There are several other combination inhalers suitable for asthma too.
Always carry your blue reliever inhaler with you.
Remember, if you’ve been prescribed a long-acting bronchodilator, you still need your fast-acting reliever inhaler (usually blue) to deal with asthma symptoms or an asthma attack.
The only time you may not need a separate reliever inhaler is when you've been put on a MART plan. Ask your GP or asthma nurse if you're not sure.
Are there any side effects?
Sometimes people may experience side effects. Common side effects (less than 1 in 100 people) can include feeling shaky, headache, palpitations or muscle cramps.
These often wear off after a few weeks of using the medicine. Side effects like thrush or a sore mouth can usually be avoided by getting into a routine of using a spacer and rinsing your mouth out after using your inhaler.
You can get more information on side effects from the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine. But if you’re worried, speak to your GP or asthma nurse.
Whenever your GP makes a change to your usual prescription, you should get another appointment four to eight weeks later.
This is a good chance for you to check the new medicines are working and are right for you, and that you’re using them in the right way.