Albuterol is a generic prescription drug that’s used to treat bronchospasm in certain situations. It’s also available as the brand-name drug Ventolin HFA. Albuterol can cause side effects (also called adverse effects) that range from mild to serious. Examples include dizziness, headache, and fast heart rate.
Albuterol is used in adults and certain children to treat:
- bronchospasm (wheezing or difficulty breathing that gets worse) in people with conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- bronchospasm caused by exercise (also called exercise-induced asthma)
Keep reading to learn about the common, mild, and serious side effects that albuterol can cause. For a general overview of the drug, including details about its uses, see this article.
Some people may experience mild to serious side effects during their albuterol treatment. Examples of albuterol’s commonly reported side effects include:
* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
Some people who take albuterol experience mild side effects. These usually go away on their own over time.
Examples of mild side effects that have been reported with albuterol include:
- ear pain
- trouble breathing
- runny nose
- sore throat
- mild allergic reaction*
* To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
In most cases, these side effects should be temporary. And some may be easily managed. But if you have any symptoms that are ongoing or bother you, talk with your doctor or pharmacist. And do not stop using albuterol unless your doctor recommends it.
Albuterol may cause mild side effects other than the ones listed above. See the drug’s prescribing information for details.
Note: After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves a drug, it tracks side effects of the medication. If you’d like to notify the FDA about a side effect you’ve had with albuterol, visit MedWatch.
Some people who take albuterol may experience serious side effects.
Serious side effects that have been reported with albuterol include:
- fast heart rate
- increased blood pressure*
- chest pain
- paradoxical bronchospasm*
- abnormal heart rhythm
- severe allergic reaction†
* This side effect was not reported during studies of the drug. But it has been reported after the drug became available for use.
† To learn more about this side effect, see the “Side effects explained” section below.
If you develop serious side effects while taking albuterol, call your doctor right away. If the side effects seem life threatening or you think you’re having a medical emergency, immediately call 911 or your local emergency number.
Albuterol may cause serious side effects other than the ones listed above. See the drug’s prescribing information for details.
Get answers to some frequently asked questions about albuterol’s side effects.
Do the albuterol aerosol inhaler and the albuterol nebulizer have different side effects?
No, the albuterol aerosol inhaler and the albuterol nebulizer have the same side effects. The inhaler and nebulizer are two different devices used to inhale the same drug.
If you have questions about which form of albuterol may be a better fit for you, talk with your doctor.
Do older adults have a higher risk of side effects with albuterol?
No. In studies of albuterol, older adults (ages 65 years and older) didn’t have a higher risk of side effects.
Your body eliminates albuterol through your kidneys, and older adults are more likely to have decreased kidney function. So in general, people in this age group may have a higher risk of side effects from drugs that are broken down by the kidneys.
If you’re age 65 years or older, your doctor may test your kidney function before prescribing albuterol.
Does albuterol cause hyperkalemia (high potassium levels)?
No, albuterol does not cause high potassium levels. But it may cause low potassium levels. This side effect was not seen in studies of albuterol. It’s been reported after the drug became available for use, but it’s not clear how often this has occurred or if albuterol was the cause.
Low potassium levels are more common in people who have certain medical conditions. They’re also more common in people who take other drugs that also decrease potassium, such as furosemide (Lasix).
Symptoms of low potassium levels include:
If you’re concerned about changes in your potassium levels while using albuterol, talk with your doctor.
Does albuterol cause any long-term side effects?
It’s possible. In most cases, side effects from albuterol are temporary, or they go away once you stop using the drug.
But certain serious side effects from albuterol, such as abnormal heart rhythm, can have long-term effects.
Before starting albuterol treatment, talk with your doctor about your health history. Your doctor can determine whether albuterol is right for you.
Learn more about some of the side effects albuterol may cause.
Albuterol may cause headache in some people. This was a common side effect in studies of the drug.
Symptoms of headache may include:
- pain that is throbbing, sharp, or dull
- pressure in your face or behind your eyes
- sensitivity to loud noises or bright lights
What might help
You may want to try the following tips for easing headache:
- drink plenty of water
- apply a warm or cool compress to your forehead or neck
- rest or sit in a dark room until the headache goes away
You may also be able to treat the headache with over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Examples include:
- Advil (ibuprofen) or other OTC anti-inflammatory drugs
- Tylenol (acetaminophen)
- Excedrin (acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine)
During your albuterol treatment, talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any OTC medications. They can help you choose a treatment that doesn’t interact with albuterol.
Symptoms of dizziness include:
- feeling off-balance or unsteady
- feeling lightheaded
What might help
Dizziness, like other mild side effects, will typically go away over time. But while you feel dizzy, avoid driving or doing other tasks that require alertness and coordination.
If the dizziness is severe or does not go away, or if it happens along with other serious symptoms such as blurry vision or fever, talk with your doctor. They may be able to determine the cause of your dizziness and prescribe a treatment. For example, dizziness is a symptom of high blood pressure.
If the dizziness is caused by albuterol, your doctor may adjust your dose or have you switch to a different treatment.
Like most drugs, albuterol can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Allergic reaction was reported in studies of albuterol.
Symptoms can be mild to serious and can include:
- skin rash
- flushing (temporary warmth, redness, or deepening of skin color)
- swelling under your skin, usually in your eyelids, lips, hands, or feet
- swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, which can make it hard to breathe
What might help
If you have mild symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as a mild rash, call your doctor right away. They may suggest a treatment to manage your symptoms. Examples include:
- an antihistamine you take by mouth, such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine)
- a product you apply to your skin, such as hydrocortisone cream
If your doctor confirms you’ve had a mild allergic reaction to albuterol, they’ll decide if you should continue using it.
If you have symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, such as swelling or trouble breathing, call 911 or your local emergency number right away. These symptoms could be life threatening and require immediate medical care.
If your doctor confirms you’ve had a serious allergic reaction to albuterol, they may have you switch to a different treatment.
Keeping track of side effects
During your albuterol treatment, consider taking notes on any side effects you’re having. You can then share this information with your doctor. This is especially helpful when you first start taking new drugs or using a combination of treatments.
Your side effect notes can include things such as:
- what dose of the drug you were taking when you had the side effect
- how soon you had the side effect after starting that dose
- what your symptoms were
- how it affected your daily activities
- what other medications you were taking
- any other information you feel is important
Keeping notes and sharing them with your doctor will help them learn more about how albuterol affects you. They can then use this information to adjust your treatment plan if needed.
Albuterol may not be right for you if you have certain medical conditions. These are known as drug-condition interactions. Other factors may also affect whether albuterol is a good treatment option for you.
Talk with your doctor about your health history before starting albuterol. Factors to consider include those described below.
Low levels of potassium. If you have low potassium levels because of a medical condition or a drug that you take, talk with your doctor. Albuterol may cause low potassium, which in some cases can lead to heart problems. Your doctor can determine whether albuterol is safe for you to use.
Seizures. If you have a condition that causes seizures, using albuterol could increase your risk of seizures. Talk with your doctor about whether this drug is right for you.
Diabetes. Albuterol may raise your blood sugar. If you have diabetes, you may have a higher risk of this side effect. Talk with your doctor about whether albuterol is safe for you to use with your condition.
Heart problems. Albuterol may cause fast heart rate and high blood pressure. High doses of albuterol have also caused abnormal heart rhythm. If you already have a heart condition, you may have a higher risk of these side effects. Talk with your doctor about whether albuterol is safe for you to use.
Thyroid problems. If you have high thyroid levels, talk with your doctor before starting albuterol treatment. This medication could raise your thyroid levels even more. Your doctor can determine whether albuterol is right for you.
Allergic reaction. If you’ve had an allergic reaction to albuterol or any of its ingredients, your doctor will likely not prescribe albuterol. Ask them what other medications are better options for you.
Alcohol and albuterol
There are no known interactions between alcohol and albuterol.
Alcohol may increase blood pressure and blood sugar. Albuterol was also reported to have those same side effects. So combining alcohol with albuterol could raise your risk of these side effects.
If you drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about how much may be safe to drink during your albuterol treatment.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding while using albuterol
It’s not known if albuterol is safe to use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant or to breastfeed, talk with your doctor before starting albuterol treatment.
If you use albuterol while pregnant, consider enrolling in a pregnancy registry. Pregnancy registries collect information about a drug’s effects when it’s used during pregnancy. To learn more or to enroll in the pregnancy registry, visit the registry’s site or call 877-311-8972.
Side effects from albuterol are not very common and are typically mild.
If you have any questions about side effects that albuterol can cause, talk with your doctor. You can also ask them about Ventolin HFA, which is the brand-name version of albuterol.
A generic drug and its brand-name version are expected to have the same side effects because they contain the same active ingredient. (An active ingredient is what makes a drug work.)
Here are a few questions to get you started:
- How do albuterol’s side effects compare with those of other COPD drugs, such as ipratropium bromide (Atrovent HFA)?
- Can albuterol cause worsening asthma?
- How do the side effects of albuterol compare with other drugs used to treat asthma?
- Can albuterol cause weight loss?
- Do I have a higher risk of albuterol side effects because of my health history?
To learn more about albuterol, see these articles:
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Disclaimer: Healthline has made every effort to make certain that all information is factually correct, comprehensive, and up to date. However, this article should not be used as a substitute for the knowledge and expertise of a licensed healthcare professional. You should always consult your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking any medication. The drug information contained herein is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible uses, directions, precautions, warnings, drug interactions, allergic reactions, or adverse effects. The absence of warnings or other information for a given drug does not indicate that the drug or drug combination is safe, effective, or appropriate for all patients or all specific uses.