Medicines that may trigger asthma symptoms

Key points about medicines that may trigger asthma symptoms

  • Some medicines can trigger asthma symptoms or make them worse.
  • Examples of medicines that may trigger asthma include aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and complementary or herbal products.
  • Read about what to do if medicines trigger your asthma.
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Some medicines can trigger asthma symptoms or make them worse. Not everybody with asthma is sensitive to these medicines, but if you have asthma, it is important to talk with your doctor before taking them. 

Always read the information leaflet and any warning labels on all medicines. This includes medicines from the pharmacy, supermarket, health food shops and other places. Whenever talking to people about your health, make sure that you tell them you have asthma. Examples of medicines that may trigger asthma include:

  • aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
  • beta blockers
  • complementary or herbal products.

Aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)

NSAIDs available in New Zealand 
  • ibuprofen (Ibugesic®, I-Profen®, Nurofen®)
  • diclofenac (Voltaren®)
  • naproxen (Noflam®, Naprosyn®)
  • ketoprofen (Oruvail®)
  • celecoxib (Celebrex®)
  • mefenamic acid (Ponstan®)
  • sulindac (Aclin®)
  • tenoxicam (Tilcotil®)
  • etoricoxib (Arcoxia®)
  • Many NSAIDs can be bought from your pharmacy without a prescription.
  • Some NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, can be bought from the supermarket.
  • NSAIDs are usually available as tablets or capsules, but some are available as a syrup or as gels or creams that can be massaged onto the painful area.
  • Aspirin is also an NSAID, but it is mainly prescribed in low doses to help to keep the blood from clotting, such as for people who have had a heart attack in the past. Examples of aspirin used in this way include Aspec®, Cartia®, Cardiprin®.Beta blockers

Beta blockers are mostly used to control high blood pressure and treat heart failure. They are also used to control heart rhythm disorders (atrial fibrillation), prevent chest pain (angina), reduce tremor and fast heart rate in anxiety, and prevent migraine headaches.

Examples of beta blockers
  • atenolol
  • sotalol
  • celiprolol (Celol®)
  • propranolol (Cardinol®)
  • nadolol
Beta blockers that also come in eye drops to treat glaucoma can also trigger asthma symptoms in some people. These include:
  • betaxolol (Betoptic ®, Betoptic S®)
  • levobunolol (Betagan®)
  • timolol (Arrow-Timolol®, Timoptol-XE®)
  • brimonidine + timolol (Combigan®)
  • dorzolamide + timolol (Arrow-Dortim®, Dorzolatim®).

Complementary or herbal products

Echinacea and royal jelly are known to worsen asthma symptoms.

Are your symptoms worse after you started taking the medicine?

Sometimes it’s not easy to find out exactly what triggers your asthma. This is because some triggers are invisible (such as grass pollen), or you may have more than one trigger. You may have a delayed reaction to a trigger. A bit of extra detective work may be needed.

Try keeping a diary of activities and symptoms to help you spot any patterns.

  1. Take your preventer medication every day.
  2. If your symptoms get worse, use your reliever and your asthma action plan.
  3. If it's triggered by medicine or herbal supplements that you've bought from your pharmacy or supermarket, avoid these in the future.
  4. If it's triggered by medicine that has been prescribed, such as a beta blocker, let your doctor know. They may be able to prescribe a different medicine or increase the dose of your preventer medication.
  5. Do not suddenly stop taking your beta blocker without talking to your doctor first. This can be dangerous and make you feel unwell. 


  1. Other medicines and asthma(external link) Asthma + Respiratory Foundation NZ
  2. Medications may trigger asthma symptoms(external link) American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology

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