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Monday, October 6, 2014

Maintenance inhaler VS Rescue inhaler

(Shutterstock image)

All inhalers look the same, but are just different colors. How do you tell which one you should use every day (maintenance/controller inhaler), and which one you use if you are having a hard time breathing (rescue inhaler)? They may look the same, but the medicine inside is VERY different!

Here is a link from American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) to see lists of photos of maintenance medications (inhaled corticosteroids)

Examples of these are:
  • Qvar
  • Pulmicort
  • Alvesco
  • Aerobid
  • Aerospan
  • Asthmanex
  • Flovent
  • Azmacort 
(The medicines listed above are meant to be taken EVERY DAY!!!!!)

Here is a link from AAAAI for photos of  long-acting beta-agonists (LABA's) It's important to know that the FDA recommends that these medications (LABA's) must ALWAYS be taken with the inhaler corticosteroids (listed above) 

Examples of these are:

  • Foradil
  • Serevent
(These are also meant to be taken EVERY DAY!!!!!) 

OR.......You can use a combination medication that is both an inhaled corticosteroid AND a long-acting beta-agonist. Examples of these are:
  •  Advair (diskus or inhaler)
  •  Symbicort
  • Dulera
 (These are meant to be taken EVERY DAY!!!!!) 
(Be careful when looking at the photos in all of these links, because some of the photos are for medicines used to treat COPD, not asthma. Carefully read the "use" column to see if it's for asthma or COPD) 
It's hard keeping track of all of the different types of medicine! If you aren't sure what you should be taking, or WHEN, call your pharmacist! It's easier for me to get through on the phone to the pharmacist - and it's what he specializes in! He can always answer my questions.

I was talking to Neighbor this weekend, and she happened to mention something about one of her inhalers. She said she would take it as needed (like a rescue inhaler) but when she mentioned the name of the inhaler, I realized that it was actually a controller/maintenance medication! That can be dangerous, because using the wrong inhaler won't help you if you are short of breath or coughing from an asthma attack.  We called the pharmacist to have him explain the difference between controller and rescue inhalers.

  •  ProAir
  • Proventil
  • Ventolin
  • Xopenex

Rescue inhalers are designed for IMMEDIATE relief. Remember - you don't have to wait until it's "an emergency" to use it. Some people used to call rescue inhalers "emergency inhalers". But that was a bad idea because people would say "'s not really an emergency because I can still breathe...." and they wouldn't use their inhaler. You can end up in the hospital, or worse - die from an asthma attack!

Webmd has a section called "When Should I Use My Inhaler? "

I know this is a long post today, but it's SO important to make sure you are using the right asthma medicine at the right time. It can be dangerous if you don't. All of these website recommend:

  • Use your controller/maintenance medication EVERY DAY
  • Use your rescue inhaler if you are short of breath/wheezing/coughing/have tightness in the chest
If you have ANY questions about what medicine you should take and when, call your pharmacist or doctor to make sure you understand. I know that it can be confusing....when my kids were diagnosed with asthma, it took me a LONG TIME to understand the difference between controller and rescue medication and when I needed to use them.


  1. My son was having problems breathing and we figured it was asthma. So we went to a pediatric doctor who confirmed with us that it is asthma. He is having a hard time with it, but he will adjust quickly.

  2. I actually never had a problem with confusing them, although I have been using inhalers since I was 2

    1. Hey Nerdy gal - glad you are doing well! :)

      This is the most common question I get from people - they are confused about different types of medicine.

      I hope this helps everyone else clear up the confusion! :)

  3. Andrea, can you please contact me. I'd like to share a new asthma resource with you. You can email me at Thank you!

    1. Hi Michael,

      Yes, I will send an email, thanks!

  4. Hi Andrea,
    I'm a nurse and a business student working on a project in the asthma space. I'm hoping to improve some aspects of care for both pediatric and adult asthmatics. Would it be possible to connect over email? You can email me at

    1. I sent an email, but will check my in box again for a reply, thanks! :)

  5. Thanks for sharing this blog with such in depth details about inhaler, diagnosis, symptoms and triggers. This is indeed a very informative post and really helpful for those suffering for constant cough.

  6. Thanks for sharing this blog with such in depth details about inhaler. This is indeed a very informative post and really helpful for those suffering for asthma.

  7. I've read the inhalers do very little for fat loss compared to the liquid... The inhaler takes a totally different pathway through your body or something like that...

    1. Inhalers don't do anything for "fat loss". However, controller medications do reduce the swelling in the lungs.