The Potential Side Effects of Bronchitis Inhalers

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of the bronchi, the airways that carry air into and out of the lungs. It can be acute or chronic, caused by viruses, bacteria, or irritation from environmental factors like cigarette smoke or air pollution.

While mild cases may resolve on their own, those with more severe bronchitis are often prescribed inhalers to help open up the airways and make breathing easier. Inhalers are very effective, but like any medication, they also come with the risk of side effects. Being informed about the potential side effects can help you use your inhaler safely and effectively.

How Bronchitis Inhalers Work

The most common type of inhaler prescribed for bronchitis is a bronchodilator. Bronchodilators work by relaxing the muscles around the airways to open them up and make breathing easier. Common bronchodilators used are short-acting beta-agonists like albuterol and long-acting beta-agonists like salmeterol.

Less frequently, doctors may prescribe anticholinergic inhalers like ipratropium or steroid inhalers containing budesonide or beclomethasone to reduce inflammation. For best results, patients are often advised to use a combination inhaler containing both a bronchodilator and a steroid.

Potential Side Effects of Bronchodilators

While bronchodilator inhalers provide fast relief of bronchitis symptoms, they can cause side effects including:

  • Nervousness, anxiety, or trembling
  • Headache
  • Throat irritation or dry/sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart rate or palpitations

These effects are usually mild and temporary but should be monitored. Call your doctor if they do not go away or get worse.

Potential Side Effects of Anticholinergics

Anticholinergic inhalers like ipratropium have fewer side effects than bronchodilators but may cause:

  • Dry mouth
  • Unpleasant taste in the mouth
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Blurred vision

Drinking plenty of water and sucking on sugar-free candy can help with dry mouth. Effects like constipation and blurred vision should be reported to your doctor.

Potential Side Effects of Inhaled Corticosteroids

Inhaled steroids like beclomethasone and budesonide are generally considered safe at prescribed doses but potential side effects may include:

  • Hoarse voice
  • Oral thrush (a yeast infection in the mouth)
  • Reflux
  • Mouth/throat irritation
  • Cough
  • Headache

Rinsing your mouth out after using your inhaler can prevent oral thrush. Reflux and hoarseness may be reduced by using a spacer device. Headaches often improve over time.

Serious Side Effects to Watch For

While quite rare, more serious side effects from bronchitis inhalers can include:

  • Rapid or irregular heart rhythms
  • Depression or agitation
  • Vision changes like cataracts or glaucoma
  • Reduced bone mineral density
  • Suppressed adrenal function

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience these more dangerous side effects when using your inhaler. You may need your medication adjusted or discontinued.

Tips for Minimizing Side Effects

You can reduce your chances of side effects from bronchitis inhalers by:

  • Using a spacer device and rinsing your mouth after each dose
  • Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated
  • Avoiding caffeine, which can worsen side effects
  • Keeping track of any side effects and reporting them promptly
  • Following prescribed doses carefully to prevent overuse

Your doctor may also have you use a short-acting inhaler only when needed for symptoms rather than routinely to minimize exposure. However, do not stop using any prescribed medication before consulting your doctor.

The Takeaway

While bronchitis inhalers are generally safe and effective when used as prescribed, they can sometimes cause side effects ranging from minor throat irritation to more serious effects like rapid heart rate. Pay attention to your body’s response to any new medication and promptly report concerning side effects. With proper precautions, you can confidently use inhaled bronchodilators and steroids to get relief from uncomfortable bronchitis symptoms.


Bronchitis inhalers provide fast-acting symptom relief by opening up inflamed airways to make breathing easier. While generally safe, potential side effects may include nervousness, headache, throat irritation, cough, dry mouth, blurred vision, and more. Serious effects like heart rhythm changes, adrenal suppression, and vision changes are rare but require prompt medical attention if they occur. To minimize side effects, use proper inhaler technique, rinse your mouth after each dose, stay hydrated, and avoid overuse. Tracking and reporting any side effects to your doctor right away is also important. Being an informed patient can help you safely manage bronchitis symptoms with inhaled medications.

Leave a comment