Reliever inhalers

Reliever inhalers are usually blue. They act quickly to treat asthma symptoms and asthma attacks.

Find out why everyone with asthma needs a reliever inhaler, when you should use it, and why it doesn’t take the place of your preventer inhaler.

What is a reliever inhaler?

Everyone with asthma needs a reliever inhaler (usually blue) for quick relief when their symptoms come on.

Your reliever inhaler works quickly to relax the muscles in your airways so you can breathe more easily.

If you have an asthma attack, your reliever inhaler can be a life saver.

Keep your reliever inhaler with you at all times, so you can use it as soon as you notice any symptoms.

Where do you get a reliever inhaler?

You get a reliever inhaler from your GP or asthma nurse. Anyone with asthma, or suspected asthma, should be prescribed a reliever inhaler.

Make sure you contact your GP for a new prescription before your reliever inhaler runs out.

Some inhaler devices have a counter to show how many doses are left. When the numbers on the counter turn red, it’s time to contact your GP for a new prescription.

You can arrange repeat prescriptions with your local pharmacy to make things easier.

If for some reason you can’t get a new prescription from the GP and you urgently need a replacement reliever inhaler, ask your pharmacist. They may be able to issue an emergency reliever.

Find out more here about getting emergency supplies of medicines.  

When do you use your reliever inhaler?

You only use your reliever inhaler if you get symptoms. It’s for quick relief when symptoms come on or when you have an asthma attack.

Your written asthma action plan will remind you what symptoms to look out for, and when you need to use your reliever inhaler.

See your GP or asthma nurse if

you're using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week. It's a sign your asthma is not well controlled.

Using your reliever before exercise

For most people good asthma control, using a regular preventer inhaler, is the best way to stop exercise triggering their symptoms.

A few people whose asthma is triggered by exercise may be told to use their reliever inhaler before they start exercising. For some people this can help stop symptoms coming on. But it’s important not to rely on your reliever to be able to exercise.

Always see your GP if you’ve noticed that exercise triggers your asthma symptoms. They can check if you need to improve your asthma preventer treatment.

How is your reliever inhaler different to your preventer inhaler?

  • Your reliever inhaler is usually blue. You only use it when your symptoms are getting worse or you’re having an asthma attack. Your reliever inhaler treats asthma symptoms quickly when they come on.
  • Your preventer inhaler comes in different colours. You use it every day as prescribed to prevent asthma symptoms. Your preventer inhaler keeps down the inflammation and sensitivity in your airways.

Did you know? If you’re regularly using your reliever inhaler, and relying on it to manage symptoms, you’re more at risk of an asthma attack.

This is because your reliever doesn’t deal with the underlying inflammation in your airways.

See your GP or asthma nurse to talk about managing your asthma better with a good preventer inhaler routine.

Types of reliever inhaler

Reliever medicine can come in different types of inhaler devices:

  • Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) give the medicine in a spray form (aerosol). For example, Airomir and Salamol. It’s good to use a spacer with these.
  • Breath actuated inhalers (BAIs) automatically release a spray of medicine when you begin to inhale. For example, Easi-breathe, and Autohaler.
  • Dry powder inhalers (DPIs) give the medicine in a dry powder instead of a spray. For example, Accuhaler and Turbohaler.

Although different inhalers have different benefits, the most important thing is getting the right dose of asthma medicine into the lungs where it can get to work quickly.

Whatever inhaler you're prescribed, you need to know how to use it in the best way. Your doctor will work with you to find the inhaler device that suits you best, and one you find easy to use correctly. Some inhalers are easier to use with a spacer.

Combination inhalers

If you’re on a MART regime, you have one inhaler device combining both a preventer and reliever medicine.

Make sure your GP or asthma nurse explains how and when to use the reliever part of your MART inhaler if you get symptoms.

Find out more about combination inhalers, including MART.

Are there any side effects?

Reliever inhalers are a safe and essential treatment for asthma symptoms when they suddenly flare up. They have very few side effects.

Some people (1 in 10) notice that they feel a bit shaky or their heart beats faster than normal.

You’re more likely to notice these side effects if you have needed to use more puffs than recommended of your reliever inhaler. They'll usually pass quickly and are not dangerous. See your GP or asthma nurse if you’re worried.

The best way to avoid side effects is to have a regular asthma review. This means your GP or asthma nurse can make sure you’re doing all you can to prevent asthma symptoms, like taking your preventer inhaler regularly as prescribed.

Your preventer inhaler works away in the background to prevent symptoms from coming on in the first place. If you use it every day, even when you’re well, you won't need to use your reliever inhaler so much.

Reliever inhaler top tips

  • Keep your reliever inhaler somewhere you can get to it easily and quickly if you need it. And tell friends and family where you keep it in case you have an asthma attack.
  • Always carry your reliever inhaler with you when you go out. Ask your GP to prescribe you an extra reliever inhaler as a spare for work or the car.
  • Check the expiry date. Even if you haven’t used all the medicine in your inhaler, you should replace your reliever inhaler with a new one if it has passed the expiry date. This is usually six months after opening it. You can find the expiry date on the bottom of the box, or on the side of the canister.
  • Always keep the cap on your reliever inhaler when you’re not using it. Small objects could get stuck in the mouthpiece if you don’t put the cap on, especially if you carry your inhaler in your bag. This is dangerous because you could end up inhaling them when you next come to use your inhaler.
  • Store your reliever inhaler at the right temperature. Extreme temperatures and high altitudes can affect the medicine in your reliever inhaler. Check the label on your inhaler for storage instructions or speak to your GP or asthma nurse for advice.
  • Check there’s enough medicine left in your reliever inhaler, especially when you’re going away on holiday, or over Christmas and other holiday periods when your GP surgery is closed. Some inhalers have indicators on the side to tell you how much medicine is left.

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