What is the difference between blue and brown inhalers?

Different colour, different medication


Asthma is a long-term condition that causes inflammation of the airways, leading to symptoms like breathlessness, coughing and wheezing. The primary form of medication prescribed for asthma are inhalers. They release small doses of medication directly into the airways to provide immediate relief when symptoms flare up, or to prevent them from occurring altogether.


How does the blue inhaler work?

There are two types of inhalers used to treat asthma. These are either reliever or preventer inhalers.

Reliever inhalers (for example the Ventolin Evohaler or Salamol Easi-Breathe) are usually blue in colour and should be used for quick relief of symptoms when you experience tightness in the chest, coughing, wheezing or breathlessness.

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Your blue inhaler works by getting the medicine right to the lungs, relaxing the muscles around the airways to allow you to breathe with more ease. This is the inhaler you need to use during an asthma attack and should be kept with you at all times in case an attack should occur. Everyone who is diagnosed with asthma will be given a blue reliever inhaler.

If you find that you are using your reliever inhaler three times a week or more then you need to report this to your doctor as this is a sign that your current treatment plan is not enough to manage your asthma. If this is the case, you will also be prescribed a preventer inhaler which is usually brown in colour.


How does the brown inhaler work?

The second type of inhaler is a preventer inhaler. This is used on a regular basis to prevent asthma attacks from occurring and to manage your symptoms on a long term basis. It should not be confused with the blue inhaler as it cannot be used for immediate relief.

Your preventer inhaler (such as the Seretide Accuhaler) will usually be brown. It works by releasing a small dose of steroids into your airways to gradually desensitise them so they are less likely to be affected by triggers. Overall, this medicine prevents asthma attacks from occurring. The important thing to remember is that you need to use your brown inhaler regularly as your doctor has instructed, usually twice a day, even if you feel in good health.

Preventer inhalers take a couple of weeks to start working. You should notice a gradual easing of your symptoms as you get used to the medication. This is a long term method to manage your asthma and can help you avoid symptoms and attacks which have an effect on your daily life.


Key points to remember

The most important thing to remember is that your blue inhaler is used when you feel symptoms or an attack arise. It is for quick relief. Your brown inhaler should be used twice a day to prevent asthma attacks and uncomfortable symptoms from occurring. It cannot be used for immediate assistance. If you are unsure about how to use your inhalers or have any questions or concerns then speak to your doctor. It’s better to check and be certain so that you feel confident that you are using your medication correctly. This is something Dr Felix can advise you on.

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