Is An Over the Counter Asthma Inhaler Available?

OTC Asthma Inhaler
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With the rising costs of medications, I am often asked if there are any over the counter or OTC asthma inhalers or treatments available in the United States. Primatene Mist was available until its chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were banned as the propellant and it was taken off the market. More recently Asthmanefrin has become available as the OTC inhaler alternative to Primatene Mist.

Should I Use An OTC Asthma Inhaler?

I think any time you are embarking on self-treatment you need to step back and ask yourself a couple of questions.

First, how sure are you that your symptoms are asthma? Many patients report using over the counter products before getting a diagnosis, despite OTC asthma inhalers not being labeled for this purpose. Classic asthma leads to the following symptoms:

However, these symptoms can be part of other serious diseases as well. An OTC asthma inhaler may provide symptom relief and mask some more serious conditions such as heart disease or COPD. If you are not sure about your symptoms, make sure you get checked out by a healthcare professional. Additionally, OTC asthma inhalers state in their packaging they are only to be used for temporary relief and the most recently approved OTC asthma med clearly states that you should be diagnosed by a physician with asthma before using.

Second, you want to know if you are at risk for a fatal asthma attack. If you have poorly controlled symptoms an OTC asthma inhaler is probably not for you.

Third, what are the possible side effects? Just like any prescription medication, OTC medications also carry a risk of side effects. Common side effects of OTC asthma inhalers include:

  • Appetite changes
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Hyperactivity
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Shakiness
  • Sinus pain
  • Sore throat
  • Tremor
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vomiting

    Finally, is an OTC asthma inhaler safe? Some healthcare providers do not feel OTC asthma inhalers are safe and point out that we do not sell OTC medications for diabetes or heart disease. The little research that has been done on the subject seems to indicate that over the counter inhalers when used correctly, are safe. An article in Chest, the journal of the American College of Chest Physicians, concluded:

         "the occasional use of OTC epinephrine inhalers appears to be safe and effective when used according to labeled instruction by individuals with only mild, intermittent disease." 

    However, the authors indicated that 1 in 5 patients using an OTC inhaler like Primatene Mist were doing so incorrectly, and more aggressive treatment under the care of a physician was indicated.

    What Over the Counter Asthma Inhaler Is Available Today?

    Asthmanefrin is a CFC-free asthma product that is currently available for use that acts as a bronchodilator. It relieves asthma symptoms by relaxing inflamed muscles and functionally enlarging the airways of the lung. You should not use Asthmanefrin if you have any of the following conditions:

    • Heart disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Thyroid disease
    • Diabetes
    • Difficulty in urination

      Asthmanefrin is a little different because it is not a traditional inhaler. Rather, the EZ Breathe Atomizer takes a small amount of liquid and turns it into a fine mist that can be inhaled into the lung. Once in the lung, it acts as a ​bronchodilator to improve your symptoms.

      You will need to decide for yourself if this is an appropriate OTC treatment for you. If you have any questions about whether or not it is appropriate, please talk with your healthcare provider.

      What Is Your Biggest Asthma Problem?

      We want to help you get control of your asthma. I want to hear about your biggest asthma problem so that we can try to help you develop a solution or better understand how to help.

      You are probably not the only one with the problem. Take a few minutes describing your problem so we can develop a solution together.


      Dickinson BD, Altman RD, Deitchman SD and Champion HC. Safety of Over-the-Counter Inhalers for Asthma. Chest 2000;118;522–526.

      Kuschner WG, Hankinson TC, Wong HC and Blanc PD. Nonprescription Bronchodilator Medication Use in Asthma. Chest 1997;112;987–993.

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