Sounds like 'sal-bew-ta-mol'

Key points about salbutamol

  • Salbutamol is used to quickly relieve breathing problems such as wheeze and cough caused by asthma and COPD.
  • Salbutamol is commonly called Asthalin®, Respigen®, Ventolin® or SalAir®.
  • From October 2023, Respigen inhaler will no longer be available. If you're using a Respigen inhaler, you'll need to switch to a different brand. Two other brands are available – SalAir and Ventolin. 
  • Find out more about salbutamol, how to use it safely and possible side effects. 
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Salbutamol is used to treat cough, wheeze and difficulty breathing caused by respiratory problems, eg, asthma and COPD. It works as a bronchodilator (to open the airways) and is often called a reliever (to relieve breathing problems).

Salbutamol quickly relieves your breathing problems. It starts to work within a few minutes and the effect will last 3 to 5 hours.

Image credit: Relievers Asthma Canada

In Aotearoa New Zealand salbutamol is available as an inhaler and a nebulising solution

  • Using salbutamol in an inhaler helps the medicine go straight into your airways when you breathe in. This means that your airways and lungs are treated quickly and very little of the medicine gets into the rest of your body.
  • Nebulisers are not so commonly used – they're used when inhalers are not suitable, such as for young children, or very sick people in hospital.
  • The information on this page is about salbutamol inhalers. Read more about nebulisers.

Salbutamol inhalers are available in different brands

In Aotearoa New Zealand salbutamol inhalers are available in different brands.


October 2023: Respigen will no longer be available because the factory making Respigen inhalers has closed down. 

If you're using a Respigen inhaler, you'll need to switch to a different brand.  2 other brands are available – SalAir and Ventolin.

  • There's no difference in the amount of medicine between the different brands of inhalers.
  • SalAir is fully funded. If you chose the Ventolin brand, you will have to pay part of the cost for it.
  • If you still have some inhalers left to collect on your prescription, your pharmacist will help you with this change over. You don't need to see your doctor. 
  • If you're going to be using SalAir, note that the reliever inhaler is now grey (rather than blue).
  • You may notice a change in the taste or feel of the spray in your mouth, but this doesn't change how it works.

Now is a great time to check you're getting the most from your inhaler.

  • Even if you've had asthma or COPD for a long time and have used the same inhaler for years, it's still good to check how to use it properly.
  • Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to check your inhaler technique.


The usual dose of salbutamol inhaler is 1 or 2 puffs up to 4 times a day when needed for shortness of breath or wheezing. If you don't get relief from your symptoms after using the salbutamol inhaler, you must contact your doctor for advice straightaway or call 111.

Asthma action plan
: You'll get a written asthma action plan from your asthma nurse or doctor which will tell you how many puffs to use for each dose, and the maximum number of puffs you should use in 24 hours. Read more about asthma action plans for adults and children

Before exercise: If you are using salbutamol to prevent asthma brought on by exercise, the usual dose is 2 puffs inhaled 15 to 30 minutes before exercise.


  • Keep your inhaler with you at all times: Make sure you have your inhaler with you at all times so you know where it is when you need it. Make sure you have enough salbutamol to last through weekends and holidays.
  • Storage: You can carry your inhaler in your pocket but it needs to be stored below 25ºC, so don't keep it in your car during summer.

Do you need a preventer? 

If you need to use salbutamol several times each week, talk to your doctor. You may need a ‘preventer’ inhaler, or the dose of your preventer inhaler may need to be increased. Preventers help reduce asthma symptoms and breathing problems. Read more about preventers.

To get the most benefit, it's important to use the correct technique. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to explain how to use your inhaler. Even if you have been shown before, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to explain how to use your inhaler if you still have any questions. Here is some guidance.

 How to use your MDI (puffer)
Take off the cap and hold the inhaler upright.
Shake the inhaler to mix the medicine.
  Sit upright, tilt your head back slightly (as if you are sniffing) and breathe out gently.

Hold the device upright, insert the inhaler into your mouth, ensuring that your lips firmly seal the mouthpiece.

At the beginning of a slow, deep breath, breathe in through the mouthpiece as you press the inhaler to release one dose or 'puff'.

Breathe in fully, remove the inhaler from your mouth and hold your breath for 10 seconds or as long as is comfortable.

Breathe out gently through your nose.

Learn more about metered dose inhalers.

Using a spacer with your inhaler

A spacer is an attachment to use with your MDI. Using a spacer with your MDI makes it easier to use the inhaler and helps to get the medicine into your lungs, where it’s needed (with less medicine ending up in your mouth and throat). 

Salbutamol multidose inhaler attached to spacer device

Spacers improve how well your medicine works. Read more about spacers.

Here are some things to know when you're taking salbutamol. Other things may be important as well, so ask your healthcare provider what you should know about.

  • Other medicines: Salbutamol interacts with some medications, herbal supplements and rongoā Māori, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting salbutamol and before starting any new products.

Like all medicines, salbutamol can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Feeling shaky
  • Nervousness
  • Tremor
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Problems sleeping
  • These are quite common when you first start using salbutamol and usually go away with time.
  • Tell your doctor if they bother you.
  • Changes in your heartbeat (faster)
  • Chest pain
  • Tell your doctor or ring Healthline 0800 611 116. 
  • Sudden worsening of breathing problems and you are using salbutamol very often
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring Healthline 0800 611 116. 
Did you know that you can report a medicine side effect to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product.(external link)

Respigen(external link), Ventolin(external link) Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet
Salbutamol (for inhalation)(external link) New Zealand Formulary Patient Information


Salbutamol in te reo Māori(external link) My Medicines, NZ, 2017
5 questions to ask about your medications(external link) Health Quality and Safety Commission, NZ, 2019 English(external link), te reo Māori(external link)


  1. Salbutamol (respiratory)(external link) New Zealand Formulary

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Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist, Healthify He Puna Waiora. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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