These medications quickly control acute asthma attacks.
Beta2-agonists do not reduce inflammation or airway responsiveness but serve as bronchodilators, relaxing and opening constricted airways during an acute asthma attack. They are used alone only for patients with mild and intermittent asthma. Patients with more severe cases should use them in combination with other drugs.
Specific short-acting beta2-agonists include:
- Albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin), called salbutamol outside the U.S., is the standard short-acting beta2-agonist in America. Other similar beta2-agonists are isoproterenol (Isuprel, Norisodrine, and Medihaler-Iso), metaproterenol (Alupent, Metaprel), pirbuterol (Maxair), terbutaline (Brethine, Brethaire, and Bricanyl), and bitolterol (Tornalate).
- Newer beta2-agonists, including levalbuterol (Xopenex), have more specific actions than the standard drugs. Studies have indicated that levalbuterol is as effective as albuterol with fewer side effects.
Short-acting bronchodilators are generally administered through inhalation and are effective for 3 - 6 hours. They relieve the symptoms of acute attacks, but they do not control the underlying inflammation. If asthma continues to worsen with the use of these drugs, patients should discuss corticosteroids or other drugs to treat underlying inflammation.
Side Effects of Beta2-Agonists. Side effects of all beta2-agonists include:
- Fast and irregular heartbeats. Notify a doctor immediately if this side effect occurs, particularly in people with existing heart conditions. Such patients face an increased risk for sudden death from cardiac related causes.
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.