There’s not yet a universal standard for inhaler colors. However, recognizing some of the most common types may help you keep your asthma regimen straight.

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If you or someone you know has asthma, knowing the correct color inhaler to reach for may help you in case of an emergency. But since these colors aren’t always standardized, always double-check the label carefully before use.

Here’s what to know about the types of inhalers available, as well as their most common colors.

Though many experts agree that color-coding inhalers would benefit patients, there’s still a lack of standardization of these devices worldwide.

According to a 2017 report from the American Medical Association (AMA), unlike in Canada, the United Kingdom, and parts of Europe, there’s currently no standardized convention for the coloration of respiratory inhalers in the United States.

In general, however, reliever medication inhalers are blue, and preventer inhalers are brown. However, this isn’t always the case, which can create confusion.

Here are what some of the most common colors can mean, but always double-check the label before use.


Blue is the color most often used for “reliever” or “rescue” inhalers. However, different brands will often use other colors for albuterol as well. These inhalers are short-acting beta-agonists (SABAs) that contain medication like albuterol, which quickly relaxes respiratory muscles.

Reliever or rescue inhalers get their name from their intended use — they’re intended to offer quick relief in case of an emergency.

Most people with asthma are prescribed a reliever inhaler, so you will likely be able to find this type more readily than others.


Brown is most often the color of “preventer” or “controller” inhalers. These devices contain corticosteroids that gradually reduce inflammation in the respiratory system over time.

These inhalers are designed to be taken regularly to prevent and gradually improve asthma symptoms over time. As a result, they’re not appropriate in case of an asthma attack or respiratory emergency.

These inhalers are meant to be used even when you don’t have symptoms. Doing so may improve your day-to-day quality of life. Using a spacer with a preventer or controller inhaler can help make using them easier and prevent side effects like a sore throat or a hoarse voice.


Green is the color most often used for long-acting bronchodilator inhalers, which help manage chronic airway conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Like preventer/controller inhalers, these are intended to manage and reduce symptoms gradually over time. They are not intended to treat acute or emergency symptoms.

Orange or Yellow

Orange or yellow devices, like brown ones, tend to be preventer/controller inhalers. However, they may sometimes be reliever/rescue inhalers, so always asses the device carefully before use.

Flovent (fluticasone) is a type of corticosteroid often found in orange or yellow devices. Proventil (albuterol sulfate) also typically uses a yellow or orange inhaler.

Red, Pink, or Purple

Red, pink, or purple devices tend to indicate a combination of preventer/controller and reliever/rescue medication.

For instance, these devices may contain a combination of a corticosteroid and SABA to provide both short-term emergency support and long-term preventive care.

Advair (fluticasone propionate and salmeterol) is a preventive asthma medication that commonly comes in a purple inhaler.

Due to safety concerns, experts always advise against sharing inhalers. Using someone else’s inhaler comes with the following risks:

  • Cross-contamination: Inhalers are designed for single-person use. Sharing one may spread viruses, bacteria, or respiratory infections from one person to another.
  • Dosage issues: Doctors prescribe inhalers to patients with specific dosages based on the patient’s unique condition. Their age, severity of asthma, and other factors all play a role in the correct dosage. Using an inhaler with an incorrect dose may be ineffective or even dangerous.
  • Medication issues: Several medications are prescribed for asthma, depending on the unique nature of the condition. Taking the wrong one may be harmful.

In general, it’s best to only use an inhaler prescribed to you by a doctor. If you don’t have your own inhaler in case of an emergency, talk with a doctor about getting a prescription.

While inhalers are the most common way to treat asthma, other ways to effectively manage it include:

In general, reliever/rescue inhalers tend to be blue, and preventer/controller inhalers tend to be brown, but that’s not always the case. Paying close attention to the type of inhaler you are using and reading the instructions carefully will help reduce the risk of complications.

Having a prescribed inhaler on hand and knowing how to use it ahead of time is highly advisable. It’s considered unsafe to use someone else’s inhaler.