What is a bronchodilator? What is it used for? Are there any bronchodilator side effects? Find answers to all these questions and more, in this article…
Bronchodilators are the medicines which are mainly used to treat asthma. The airway passages in the respiratory tract which transfer air into the lungs are called ‘bronchi’. These passages further divide into minute tubes called ‘bronchioles’. Bronchodilators help widen the bronchi and bronchioles, increasing airflow to the lungs. The use of a bronchodilator results in decreased resistance in the airway passages, and thus facilitates easy and unobstructed respiration.
Bronchodilator Types and Uses
Beta-agonists, anticholinergics, and theophylline, are the three main types of bronchodilators. They are ingested in the form of tablets or liquids; or are injected or inhaled. As these medicines help open the bronchial tubes, air can flow easily through lungs. Most people prefer to inhale beta-agonists and anticholinergics. Short acting bronchodilators provide quick relief to the patients of asthma. A person who often suffers from asthma attacks can use them in asthma nebulizers. Long-acting bronchodilators help manage and control asthma symptoms for extended hours.
Some of them are known for their instant effect, while some may take about 30 – 45 minutes to begin working. Their effect may last for more than 12 hours. As air moves freely within the bronchi and bronchioles, mucus gets cleared from the lungs. It becomes easy to cough out the mucus, once it starts moving freely. Some bronchodilators (anticholinergics) are used to treat COPD (disorder caused by excessive smoking) in emergency rooms. Some bronchodilators like theophylline exhibit mild anti-inflammatory properties and help lower inflammation of the lungs. Side effects of bronchodilators are usually noticed after consumption of too much of medication.
Bronchodilator Medication Side Effects
Although bronchodilators are used to treat respiratory problems, their overuse can result in life-threatening side effects. Albuterol inhaler side effects include skin rash, hives, itching sensation, blurred vision, diarrhea, stomach ache, indigestion, nausea, headache, constipation, rapid or irregular heart rate, chest pain, tightness of the chest, etc. Side effects of theophylline are also similar.
Excessive use of theophylline may lead to muscle pain, stomach ache, muscle cramps, fatigue and nervousness. It may result in hyperactivity as well. A dry throat is one of the most common side effects of atrovent. Eye contact with the medication can lead to burning sensation in the eyes, and it may cause vision problems too, for a short period of time.
Some of the most common side effects of bronchodilators include irritation in the throat, dizziness, light-headedness, heartburn, breathing difficulty, loss of appetite, altered taste sensation, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, trembling, and sweating. Sometimes, such side effects are noticed initially when the person starts using bronchodilators. But as the body gets adjusted to these medicines, the side effects subside and disappear eventually.
Long-acting β2-agonists (for example, Salmeterol and Formoterol) are usually taken twice a day with an anti-inflammatory medication (inhaled or oral). The bronchodilators may increase the risk of death if they are taken regularly without a steroid. Some bronchodilators interfere with routine medications, leading to various side effects.
Asthma patients need to avoid both normal smoke and cigarette smoking. Otherwise, the medications will be of no use. Orally taken bronchodilators exhibit more side effects than asthma inhalers because they contain higher doses. Oral bronchodilators need to be present in the bloodstream in order to reach the lungs. Thus, the chances are higher that they lead to certain side effects; as the same blood is transferred to each and every organ. But bronchodilators obtained from asthma inhalers are transferred directly into the airways in the lungs, and therefore they exhibit fewer side effects.
Bronchodilator side effects may vary according to the type of bronchodilator used and the overall health of the person. Side effects of these medicines may vary depending upon how much medication is taken or inhaled. Excessive use of short-acting bronchodilators, in any form, indicates chronic uncontrolled asthma. Overuse of these medicines indicate that the person needs more aggressive treatment. If you need to use bronchodilators more frequently, you should consult your physician immediately.