What is Asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the airways that causes breathing difficulties. During an attack, the air passages into your lungs contract, making it harder to breathe. It is one of the UK’s most prevalent conditions; 1 in 11 people will experience asthma to varying degrees. It is characterised by wheezing, tightness of the chest, coughing and difficulty in breathing. Asthma is managed through the use of inhalers.

Why Do I Need an Inhaler?

Asthma inhalers are used to deliver drugs straight into the lungs, allowing for quicker drug administration to treat asthma symptoms at their source. Although incurable, inhalers are beneficial in controlling asthmatic symptoms and preventing asthma attacks, allowing sufferers to live normal lives in the long term. Some asthma inhalers can also be used during an attack to give immediate benefit.

Blue vs. Brown Inhaler

Blue vs Brown Inhaler

If you are asthmatic, it is likely that you will own at least two inhalers – a blue ‘reliever’ and a brown ‘preventer’ inhaler. These two types of inhaler have two varying uses:

    • Blue ‘reliever’ inhalers are used when required for immediate relief of asthmatic symptoms.
    • Brown ‘preventer’ inhalers should be used daily to prevent symptoms and asthma attacks from happening.

These inhalers usually have a dose counter to inform you of how many doses are left in your inhaler. To take either type of inhaler, it is important that you shake your inhaler before taking a dose of the medication. Hold your inhaler upright and inhale as you press the button on the top.

Dry powder inhalers are slightly different – check the instructions included with your inhaler before use.

Blue Inhaler

A blue inhaler contains the active ingredient salbutamol, and is given under the brands Ventolin and Salamol.

Salbutamol is a fast-acting bronchodilator, providing immediate relief to asthma symptoms. Salbutamol works quickly to relax the muscles in the airways, making it easier to breathe. One or two puffs of your salbutamol 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 a 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.

Start your assessment for an Asthma Reliever

Brown Inhaler

A brown inhaler contains a low-dose steroid (some may contain high doses, relative for inhaled strengths).. 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 start to notice the benefits.

Steroid inhalers work 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 Fostair inhalers, 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!

Start your assessment for an Asthma Preventer

Signs Your Asthma May Be Uncontrolled

Your inhalers help control your asthma and its symptoms. However, there are signs that your asthma may not be under control. These 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

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.

Where Can I Buy Inhalers Online?

You can visit our Asthma clinic for treatment options for a refill of your asthma inhalers. You must ensure that you are still seeing your doctor or nurse regularly for your asthma checkups.

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.

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.


NHS (2018). Asthma Overview

British Thoracic Society (2019)

BTS/SIGN Guidelines 2016

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