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®.
  • Find out how to take it safely and possible side effects.
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Salbutamol is used to treat cough, wheeze and difficulty breathing caused by respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD. It works as a bronchodilator (to open the airways) and a reliever inhaler (to relieve breathing problems).

Salbutamol is called a ‘reliever’ medicine because it quickly relieves your breathing problems. It starts to work within a few minutes and the effect will last between 3 to 5 hours.

Image credit: Relievers Asthma Canada

Using an inhaler device enables the medicine to go straight into your airways when you breathe in. This means that your airways and lungs are treated, but very little of the medicine gets into the rest of your body. 

In New Zealand salbutamol is available as an inhaler and nebulising solution. Nebulisers are not commonly used – they are used in situations when using inhalers is not suitable, such as in young children, or very sick people.

The information on this page is about salbutamol inhalers. Read more about nebulisers. 

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 do not 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 will receive 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 and 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 is 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 medication.
  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). Spacers improve how well your medicine works. Read more about spacers.

  • Do you have heart disease?
  • Do you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroid)?
  • Do you have high blood pressure (hypertension)?
  • Do you have an irregular heartbeat or rhythm, including a very fast pulse?
  • Do you play competitive or professional sport?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start using salbutamol. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions, or it can only be used with extra care.

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 troublesome
  • 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 side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product(external link)

Salbutamol may interact with some medicines and herbal supplements, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting salbutamol or before starting any new medicines.

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

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

Reviewed by: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland

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