The Primatene Mist inhaler is available in drugstores like CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens, but it’s recommended to use only during emergencies.

Once a common sight on drugstore shelves, Primatene Mist disappeared from the market in 2011 and recently re-emerged with a new formulation. If you’re wondering what Primatene Mist is, how it works, who it’s meant for, and the reason for its absence and return, read on.

Primatene Mist is an over-the-counter asthma inhaler. Although inhalers are typically prescription-only, Primatene can be obtained at many drugstores and offers fast relief of mild asthma symptoms.

Primatene Mist has been available for over 50 years. In 2011, Primatene Mist was taken off the market due to its use of chlorofluorocarbons — CFCs, which for many years were used as propellants in sprays and mists like hairspray.

They’re harmless on earth, but since they’re lighter than air, they float up into the atmosphere once released. Once they reach the upper atmosphere, they can damage the ozone layer and contribute to climate change. CFCs began to be phased out of consumer products in the late 1980s.

Some refer to Primatene Mist as a “rescue inhaler,” as it’s intended to relieve mild symptoms quickly, but is not intended for long-term use.

Until 2011, Primatene Mist contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), chemicals known to contribute to depletion of the ozone layer. The product was phased out in 2011, and became available for purchase again in 2019 using an alternative propellent called hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). HFCs are widely used in some of the most common types of inhalers.

Primatene Mist’s active ingredient is epinephrine. This is a bronchodilator, meaning that when inhaled, it causes your air passages to expand. Primatene Mist comes in inhaler form, which forces the mist containing epinephrine into your lungs.

A 2017 study shows the new formulation of Primatene Mist to be just as safe for people as the previous version. As long as users don’t rely solely on Primatene Mist for asthma control, it’s safe to use.

As stated above, Primatene Mist is only for emergencies. Primatene Mist is for people experiencing mild asthma symptoms, such as:

  • shortness of breath
  • a whistling sound when breathing
  • coughing
  • mucus in the airways

The Food and Drug Administration also states that Primatene Mist should only be used by those with a prior diagnosis of asthma.

Asthma conditions can change over time. Just because you’ve previously had mild symptoms doesn’t mean it will stay that way. If your asthma produces more serious effects like a constant feeling of tightness in your chest, fast heartbeat, or being so winded you can’t eat, speak, or sleep, talk to your doctor about prescription medications.

Some asthma specialists aren’t fans of Primatene Mist, but it’s not the CFCs they take issue with. Experts say its widespread availability encourages people to rely solely on it, rather than obtaining more effective medication and discussing long-term treatment with a doctor.

As it’s a rescue inhaler, it only provides relief for mild symptoms. It should only be used in an emergency to buy the user time until they can get to their prescription medication, and not as long-term care.

However, some advocates for Primatene Mist say it offers at least some relief for those in areas where professional care is unaffordable or hard to reach.

According to the American Thoracic Society, Primatene Mist is more likely than other rescue inhalers to cause:

  • increased blood pressure
  • increased heart rate
  • nervousness
  • seizures

If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, talk to your doctor before using Primatene Mist.

Primatene Mist is available at most drugstores, including national chains like CVS and Walgreens. It retails for about $30. A prescription is not needed.

Where can you find Primatene Mist?

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Asthma is a condition better treated with effective, long-term drugs rather than with OTC medications as symptoms arise. If you are experiencing any level of asthma symptoms, see a doctor. If you’ve already been diagnosed with asthma and your symptoms become worse, talk to an allergy or asthma specialist about modifying your long-term treatment plan.

How to find an asthma specialist

Start with your local resources, whether you have a doctor you already see and can ask for a referral, or you want to find low-cost care. Your local library can also be a good place to start.

A number of medical universities with teaching hospitals also have asthma clinics.

The American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology provides a search tool for finding specialists nationwide.

Primatene Mist can be useful for certain circumstances, but some doctors would advise against its use. While it’s safe to use it to relieve mild asthma symptoms quickly, buyers shouldn’t rely on Primatene Mist as an ongoing treatment for asthma. If you don’t already have a treatment plan in place, talk with a doctor to find out what prescriptions and preventive measures you can use in addition to Primatene Mist.