Albuterol Inhalers for Asthma

Indian woman using inhaler in doctor's office
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Albuterol is an inhaled medication used for the immediate treatment of the symptoms of asthma— coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. Albuterol works by relaxing the smooth muscles of the lungs, typically within a few minutes of taking the medication. Therefore, it is often referred to as a “rescue” medicine for the treatment of asthma.

Are There Different Brands of Albuterol Available?

Yes, there are three brands of albuterol available: ProAir, Ventolin, and Proventil.

When the propellant used in albuterol was changed from chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) to hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), generic versions of albuterol became unavailable.

Are There Differences in How ProAir, Ventolin, and Proventil Work?

There is not likely to be any significant differences in how the different brands of albuterol work in terms of treating the acute symptoms of asthma. People may have their preferences in terms of which brand of albuterol works better for them, but there are no known studies showing that one brand is superior to another.

Ventolin does have the advantage of having a dose counter on the inhaler, showing how many puffs of albuterol remain in the canister (ProAir and Proventil don’t have dose counters). This is an extremely useful feature since it is otherwise nearly impossible to tell how many puffs remain in an albuterol inhaler without having a dose counter.

A study published in 2006 demonstrated the importance of having a dose counter on albuterol inhalers.

Twenty-five percent of asthmatics surveyed in this study reported finding that their albuterol inhaler was empty at the time of an asthma attack. In those finding an empty inhaler during an attack, nearly 90 percent thought that their albuterol inhaler was empty when it stopped spraying—these people were unaware that propellant continues to spray long after the albuterol medication has run out, so these asthmatics were only inhaling propellant for many doses.

Why Was Albuterol Changed From a CFC to an HFA Propellant?

Hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA, inhalers use a different form of propellant compared to the older CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) inhalers. CFCs have been found to damage the ozone layer and cause other environmental problems. HFA and CFC inhalers work essentially the same and the change to HFA inhalers has not affected the delivery of medication.

How Do I Use an Albuterol Inhaler?

The proper technique for using HFA inhalers is somewhat different from the use of the older CFC inhalers. The end of the HFA can now be placed directly inside the mouth to be used, while the CFC inhalers were recommended to be placed a few inches in front of the mouth.

The use of a spacer was recommended with the CFC inhalers, whereas manufacturers of HFA inhalers don’t mention the use of a spacer in the prescribing information. This doesn’t mean that a spacer can’t be used—in fact, many experts still recommend the use of a spacer with the HFA inhalers.

How Do I Clean an Albuterol HFA Inhaler?

Since the new HFA inhalers have a softer spray, they tend to clog. Therefore, manufacturers recommend that these devices be cleaned every week. The canister is removed from the holder (also called the "boot"), and the holder is rinsed with warm water for approximately 30 seconds.

The holder should then be allowed to dry completely overnight before using again.

If you’re not completely sure how to use or clean your albuterol inhaler, read the patient information section for ProAir, Proventil, or Ventolin.


  • Colice GL. New Drugs for Asthma. Respir Care 2008; 53(6):688 – 696.
  • Sander N, Fusco-Walkert SJ, Harder JM, Chipps BE. Dose counting and the use of pressurized metered-dose inhalers: running on empty. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006 Jul;97(1):34-8.
  • ProAir package insert. Teva Corporation. 
  • Proventil package insert. Merck Corporation. 
  • Ventolin package insert. GSK Corporation. 

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