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Bronchodilators for Cystic Fibrosis



Generic Name Brand Name
pirbuterol Maxair
salmeterol Serevent

Inhaled or oral

Generic Name Brand Name
albuterol Proventil, Ventolin

Inhaled, oral, or injected

Generic Name

How It Works

Bronchodilators relax the muscles in the airways of the lungs. This enlarges (dilates) the airways and makes it easier for you to breathe. Bronchodilators may also help you cough up mucus. When they are used to treat cystic fibrosis, bronchodilators are usually given through a nebulizer or with an inhaler. They are rarely taken as a pill or given as an injection.

Why It Is Used

Bronchodilators are used to treat many lung diseases, including cystic fibrosis.

To minimize certain side effects, bronchodilators are often used along with inhaled antibiotics.

How Well It Works

Some people who have cystic fibrosis breathe much more easily while using bronchodilators. Other people do not notice any benefits.

Bronchodilators work better on people who have inflamed, narrow airways.

Side Effects

All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.

Here are some important things to think about:

  • Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
  • Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
  • If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.

Call911or other emergency services right away if you have:

Call your doctor if you have:

Common side effects of this medicine include:

Side effects of bronchodilators are more likely to occur when using the pill, liquid, or injectable forms than when using the inhaled form.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reported that salmeterol may make breathing more difficult. If your wheezing gets worse after taking this medicine, call your doctor right away.

See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)

What To Think About

Try to avoid giving your child an inhaled medicine when he or she is crying. When a child is crying, not as much medicine is delivered to the lungs.

Taking medicine

Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.

There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.

Advice for women

If you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant, do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to. Some medicines can harm your baby. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and supplements. And make sure that all your doctors know that you are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to get pregnant.


Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Complete the new medication information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this medication.

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Susanna McColley, MD - Pediatric Pulmonology
Last Revised May 14, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: May 14, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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