Aerosol Medications

If you have asthma, COPD (Chronic-Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), emphysema or other respiratory ailments, your doctor has probably prescribed one or more of these common types of aerosol medications or respiratory medicine. These aerosol medications can help relieve symptoms, making it easier for you to breathe and cope with your condition.

Understanding the Different Types of Aerosol Medications

Here’s a quick summary of what each type of aerosol medication does.


Bronchodilators are intended relieve reversible brochospasm by relaxing the smooth muscles of the bronchioles and open up airways in conditions associated with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or bronchoiectasis. Examples of bronchodilators include albuterol, metaproterenol, and ipratropium.


Anti-cholinergics produce bronchodilation by inhibiting cholinergic receptors on bronchial smooth muscles. Ipratropium Bromide is indicated for maintenance treatment of bronchospasm as associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including bronchitis and pulmonary emphysema.


Corticosteroids decrease inflammation of airways and reduce mucus production. They are used to help prevent the symptoms of asthma. When used regularly every day, they decrease the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. However, they will not relieve an asthma attack that has already started. Corticosteroids are sometimes prescribed along with bronchodilators. Examples of corticosteroids include betamethasone and dexamethasone.

See Corticosteroids (Oral) and Corticosteroids (Inhaled) for more information.


Antibiotics help fight respiratory infections. They are often given at the first sign of nasal congestion, fever, increased coughing or a change in mucus. They work by killing bacteria and preventing their growth.


Expectorants-mucolytics help loosen mucus and makes it easier to cough up. They are used to ease breathing in conditions such as bronchitis, emphysema, tuberculosis and other lung diseases.


Cromolyn used as preventive to asthmatic reactions before contact or exposure with asthma triggers. When used regularly, cromolyn lessens the frequency and severity of asthma attacks by reducing inflammation in the lungs. Also used just before exposure to conditions and substances that cause bronchospasm (wheezing or difficultly in breathing). It will not help with asthma attacks that have already started. Intal is an example of cromolyn. See our cromolyn article for more information.

Important Reminder

When taking your medications. Be sure you are taking the right one and use the correct dose. Always follow directions from your physician carefully. Take medicines exactly as prescribed and at the intervals directed. Changing the size of doses or skipping doses can be dangerous.

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