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Albuterol and SABAs: How They Treat Acute Asthma Symptoms

Albuterol and Other SABAs Provide Rapid Symptom Relief


Updated June 13, 2014

Albuterol and SABAs: How They Treat Acute Asthma Symptoms

Albuterol Inhaler

Photo: © ADAM

What Are SABAs?

SABAs are a type of bronchodilator used for the acute relief of asthma symptoms. SABA stands for short acting beta agonist, the most common one being albuterol (a list of other SABAs is included below). They help with symptoms such as:

Taken 30 minutes before the onset of exercise, albuterol and other SABAs can prevent symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.

Albuterol and other SABAs are not controller medications and should not be used as a regular treatment for your asthma. Increased use of albuterol and other SABA inhalers may also mean you need to do a better job at avoiding your asthma triggers.

How Do Albuterol and Other SABAs Work?

Albuterol and other SABAs improve your asthma symptoms by increasing airflow through your lungs. In this bronchodilator video you can see how bronchodilators like albuterol work. As SABAs like albuterol relax the smooth muscle lining the airways of the lung and your airways open up.

Side Effects of Albuterol and Other SABAs

Many patients do not experience any side effects using albuterol and other SABAs. Side effects, for the most part, are considered mild, meaning you can monitor them and discuss with your doctor if they do not resolve. If you experience some of the minor side effects, some physicians may change you to a different SABA.

Am I Using Too Much Albuterol?

Using your albuterol or SABA more than twice per week indicates your asthma is under poor control. If you are using your albuterol or other SABA more than twice per week you may need to increase your other controller medications like an inhaled steroid or make sure that one of these conditions is not making your asthma worse.

Examples of Albuterol and other SABAs

  • Proventil HFA
  • Ventolin HFA
  • Proair HFA
  • Xopenex HFA
  • Alupent

If you do not see your medication listed here, look for it in our drug finder.

The Bottom Line

Albuterol and other SABAs are primarily used for the treatment of acute asthma symptoms or the prevention of exercise-induced asthma. These medications work by relaxing the muscles in your lung and allowing air to move through the lung more easily.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Accessed: July 1, 2009. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma

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