Blue and Brown Inhalers

The Difference between Blue and Brown inhalers

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The Difference between Blue and Brown inhalers

Written by Jessica Baker, MPharm. Locum Pharmacist

→ Asthma is a common inflammatory condition of the airways causing breathing difficulties.
→ It is managed through the use of inhalers.
→ Blue ‘reliever’ inhalers are used when required for immediate relief of asthmatic symptoms.

→ Brown ‘preventer’ inhalers should be used daily to prevent asthma symptoms and asthma attacks from happening.

Visit our online Asthma clinic for treatment options

Why do I need an inhaler?

Asthma is one of the UK’s most prevalent conditions, with 1 in 11 of us suffering from it to varying degrees. It is characterised by wheezing, tightness of the chest, coughing and difficulty in breathing, all caused by inflammation of the airways.

Inhalers are used to deliver drugs straight into the lungs giving quicker drug administration to manage symptoms. Although incurable, inhalers are beneficial in controlling asthmatic symptoms and preventing asthma attacks, allowing sufferers to live normal lives. Some inhalers can also be used during an attack to give immediate benefit.  
If you are asthmatic, it is likely that you will own at least two inhalers - a blue ‘reliever’ and a  brown ‘preventer’.

Blue Inhaler

A blue inhaler contains the drug salbutamol and is given under the brands Ventolin and Salamol.
Salbutamol is a fast-acting bronchodilator and provides immediate relief of asthmatic symptoms. It works quickly to relax the muscles in the airways making it easier to breathe. One or two puffs of your blue inhaler should be sufficient to achieve this effect.
This inhaler should be used on an ‘as required’ basis - you should use it whenever you feel your asthma worsening. This may be due to various triggers, for example, exercise, smoke, pollen or weather changes.

You should keep your blue inhaler on you or nearby in case you need it. If your child is asthmatic it may also be beneficial to keep a second blue inhaler at school.

If you feel that you are using your blue inhaler more than two times per week, your asthma may not be as well controlled as it could be. If this is the case you should contact your GP or nurse for an asthma review.

Visit our online Asthma clinic for treatment options

Brown Inhaler

A brown inhaler contains a low-dose steroid.  This is given once or twice daily to reduce the inflammation within the airways and control symptoms. It should be used regularly even when you feel fine, however, it may take a few weeks to notice any benefit.

Steroid inhalers aim to reduce the occurrence of asthmatic symptoms and prevent asthma attacks from happening. They are therefore essential in the management of asthma.
Steroid inhalers do not provide immediate symptom relief and therefore should not be used during an asthma attack - this is what your blue inhaler is for.

Common steroid inhalers prescribed in the UK include Clenil, Pulmicort and Qvar. Depending on the extent of your asthma you may be using a higher strength of steroid inhaler or a combination inhaler. A combination inhaler combines a long-acting bronchodilator along with a steroid. This aims to reduce the number of inhalers you need to use. They should also be used regularly and maybe another colour!  

Signs your asthma may uncontrolled

Depending on how your asthma progresses your doctor may decide to step up or down your steroid use. If your asthma is not well controlled they may increase your steroid dose or switch you to a combined inhaler. Likewise, if your asthma is improving they may reduce your steroid use.

Visit our online Asthma clinic for treatment options

Signs that your asthma may not be under control include:

 -Using your blue inhaler more than two times per week
 -Asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing at night
 - A drop in your peak flow readings

If you feel like your asthma may be worsening you should arrange a visit to your GP.

For more information about asthma management head over to Asthma UK and the British Thoracic Society.


NHS (2018). Asthma Overview. Accessed 5/3/19.

British Thoracic Society (2019). Accessed 5/3/19.   BTS/SIGN Guidelines 2016

The information contained in this article is not a substitute for personalised medical advice.

Should you have any concerns about your health please speak to your pharmacist or doctor.