LABA for asthmaShare on Pinterest
Getty Images

Long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs) are a type of inhaler medication used to manage asthma. When taken regularly, they loosen the muscles of the lower respiratory tract to keep airways open.

LABAs can help prevent asthma attacks, but only when taken alongside an inhaled corticosteroid. Taking LABAs without an inhaled corticosteroid may actually increase your risk of a serious asthma attack.

Learn more about LABAs, including types, side effects, interactions, and more.

A LABA is a type of bronchodilator for asthma. Bronchodilators help prevent asthma attacks by dilating (opening) the bronchi and bronchioles. The bronchi are the tubes that deliver air from your windpipe (trachea) to your lungs. The bronchi break off into smaller air passages called bronchioles.

LABAs are referred to as long-acting because they are taken once or twice daily to reduce symptoms over the long term. They are different from short-acting bronchodilators or rescue inhalers, which are used to relieve symptoms of an asthma attack.

LABAs are an add-on treatment, which means they are never prescribed to prevent asthma on their own.

Inhaled corticosteroids are the main preventive drug for asthma. For people with moderate to severe asthma, combining inhaled corticosteroids with a LABA may help to further reduce symptoms.

LABAs act on the beta-2 receptors of the adrenergic system. They mimic the effects of neurotransmitters like epinephrine and norepinephrine to relax the smooth muscle in the airways.

This action is complementary to the effects of inhaled corticosteroids. In addition, LABAs also help inhaled corticosteroids work better.

There are three LABAs available to treat asthma:

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the LABAs listed above should only be taken alongside inhaled corticosteroids. These include:

More commonly, LABAs and inhaled corticosteroids come in a single inhaler that delivers both drugs at the same time. This makes it easier to remember to take them together. These combination medications are outlined in the chart below.

LABAs and inhaled corticosteroid combination medications

Brand name(s)LABAInhaled corticosteroid
Advair Diskus, Wixela Inhub, AirDuo Respiclicksalmeterolfluticasone
Breo Ellipta, Trelegy Elliptavilanterolfluticasone

If you are not sure what to take, talk to a doctor. Don’t stop taking your asthma medication without first consulting with a healthcare professional.

Your doctor will help you understand what to expect while taking LABA medication. While LABAs can improve asthma symptoms, they come with a risk of side effects.

The most common side effects of LABAs are mild. They include:

Side effects are more likely to appear when you first start taking LABAs. They may disappear after your body gets used to the medication.

Serious side effects are rare but possible. Seek emergency medical assistance if you experience any of the following:

  • facial and/or oral swelling
  • hives and/or a rash
  • difficulty breathing

Remember that taking LABAs without inhaled corticosteroids can increase your risk of a life-threatening asthma attack. To avoid adverse effects, take both as prescribed.

LABAs can interact with other drugs, putting you at risk of serious side effects, including heart attacks and low potassium (hypokalemia).

Drugs that are known to interact with LABAs include:

Be sure to provide your doctor with an up-to-date list of medications, as well as any other vitamins or supplements you take.

The cost of a LABA varies according to the drug your doctor prescribes, where you live, and whether you have insurance.

According to GoodRx, a LABA inhaler can cost you more than $400 per month. Your insurance might cover some or all of that cost.

If you can’t pay, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offers a list of drug assistance programs that might be able to help.

LABAs are prescribed to prevent symptoms of moderate-to-severe asthma. They work by relaxing the muscles to keep airways open.

They are never prescribed alone, and instead must be taken alongside an inhaled corticosteroid. Most of the time, LABAs and inhaled corticosteroids are delivered via a single inhaler that contains both medications.

Talk to your doctor to find out more about LABAs, and whether they can help reduce your asthma symptoms.