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Bronchodilator Medication for COPD

Bronchodilators help open the airways in the lungs by relaxing smooth muscle around the airways. Bronchodilator medication can be short or long acting.


Short-Acting Bronchodilators 

  • These work quickly (within 15-20 minutes) to help decrease shortness of breath. They are sometimes described as "rescue" or "quick-reliever" medications. Your doctor may prescribe a short-acting beta-agonist to use as-needed to decrease shortness of breath or to use every day. Common short-acting inhaled beta-agonists include:
    • Proventil HFA®, ProAir®, Ventolin HFA® (albuterol)
    • Xopenex® (levalbuterol)
    • Maxair® (pirbuterol)
    • Atrovent® (ipratropium)
  • Combivent® (albuterol and ipratropium) is a common combination short-acting inhaled bronchodilator. Some people feel less shortness of breath with a combination of medications.


Long-Acting Bronchodilators

  • These medications are long-acting and their effects last for a long time. Therefore, these medications should not be used for acute shortness of breath in in an emergency. Long-acting bronchodilators are used regularly to open the airways and keep them open.
  • Common long-acting inhaled bronchodilators that are inhaled once every 24 hours include:
    • Spiriva® (tiotropium)
    • Arcapta® (indacaterol)
  • Common long-acting inhaled bronchodilators that are inhaled every 12 hours include:
    • Serevent® (salmeterol)
    • Foradil® (formoterol) 
    • Brovana® (arformoterol)  


Combination Long-Acting Bronchodilator and Anti-Inflammatory Medications

These combination medications combine two medications that are used to manage COPD in one device - a long-acting bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory medication. They are taken every 12 hours.

  • Common combination long-acting bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory medications include:
    • Advair® (Flovent® and Serevent®)
    • Symbicort® (Pulmicort® and Foradil®)


This information has been approved by Russ Bowler, MD, PhD and Ann Mullen, RN, MSN, CNS, AE-C (August 2013).

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