Terbutaline inhaler and nebuliser

  • Terbutaline is a reliever inhaler.
  • You may use it as needed up to four times a day. If your symptoms do not improve, contact your doctor for advice straightaway.
  • The most common side-effect is feeling shaky. This should soon pass.
Type of medicine Bronchodilator (a short-acting beta2 agonist)
Used for Asthma and other airways-related problems
Also called Bricanyl®
Available as Turbohaler and respules (to use with a nebuliser)

Terbutaline inhalers are referred to as 'reliever' inhalers. This is because they relieve symptoms of breathlessness.

Terbutaline is called a bronchodilator because it dilates (widens) your airways. It works by opening up the air passages in your lungs so that air can flow into your lungs more freely. This helps to relieve symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and feeling breathless. It starts to work within a few minutes and the effect will last between 3-6 hours.

Terbutaline can also be taken as a tablet or syrup. There is a separate medicine leaflet called Terbutaline tablets and syrup which gives more information about this.

Some medicines are not suitable for people with certain conditions, and sometimes a medicine may only be used if extra care is taken. For these reasons, before you start using terbutaline it is important that your doctor or pharmacist knows:

  • If you are pregnant, trying for a baby or breast-feeding. This is because it is particularly important that your breathing is well-controlled if you are pregnant.
  • If you have hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland).
  • If you have heart problems or an irregular heartbeat.
  • If you have high blood pressure.
  • If you have diabetes mellitus (high sugar levels in your blood).
  • If you are taking other medicines, including those available to buy without a prescription, herbal and complementary medicines.
  • If you have ever had an allergic reaction to this or to any other medicine.
  • Before using terbutaline, read the manufacturer's printed information leaflet from inside the pack. The leaflet will give you more information about how to use your inhaler or nebuliser, and a full list of possible side-effects from using terbutaline.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions carefully and make sure you know how to use your inhaler device properly. Ask your nurse, doctor or pharmacist to show you again if you are unsure. The dose commonly recommended by doctors is one dose (one spray or single-dose respule) as required, up to a maximum of four times a day. Do not use terbutaline more often than this. If you have been prescribed the respules, make sure you know what volume to use in the nebuliser.
  • If you do not get relief from your symptoms after using terbutaline, contact your doctor straightaway.

Instructions for using respules:

  1. Break off a respule from the strip. Hold it upright and twist off the wing tab to open it up.
  2. Place the open end inside the nebuliser cup and squeeze out the liquid slowly. Replace the top on the nebuliser cup.
  3. Connect the top end of the cup to the face mask or mouthpiece and the bottom end to the air pump. The air pump should be connected to the compressor unit.
  4. Turn on the nebuliser and breathe in the mist calmly and deeply using the face mask or mouthpiece. If you are using a face mask, make sure the face mask fits tightly.
  5. The length of time it takes to nebulise all the liquid will vary with the type of equipment you use. You will know when your treatment is complete because the fine mist will stop coming out of your mask or mouthpiece.
  6. Wash the nebuliser cup and mouthpiece (or face mask) in warm soapy water and rinse it out well after each use. Dry these parts by turning on the compressor and allowing air to blow through them.
  • Try to keep your regular appointments with your doctor. This is so your doctor can review your condition on a regular basis.
  • Make sure that you keep this reliever inhaler with you all the time.
  • If you are using more than one inhaler, use terbutaline first and then wait about five minutes before using the other inhalers. Terbutaline opens your air passages to allow the other medicine to work more effectively.
  • If you have also been prescribed a steroid (preventer) inhaler, you should continue to use it regularly, even if your symptoms improve. Your doctor will tell you when it is appropriate for you to step down your treatment if this is required.
  • If at any time your breathing gets worse, continue to use your inhalers but also contact your doctor or nurse for advice straightaway. Also, if you are needing to use the maximum dose of terbutaline every day (or if you continue to have symptoms despite using the maximum dose), you must let your doctor know about this too, as you may require additional treatment.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking causes irritation and damage to the lungs, and will make your condition worse. Speak with your doctor or practice nurse for further advice if you are having difficulty in stopping smoking.
  • If you have diabetes you may need to check your blood glucose more frequently, as terbutaline may affect the levels of sugar in your blood. Your doctor will be able to advise you about this.

Along with their useful effects, most medicines can cause unwanted side-effects although not everyone experiences them. These usually improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine, but speak with your doctor or pharmacist if any of the following side-effects continue or become troublesome.

Common terbutaline side-effects - these affect around 1 in 10 people who take this medicine What can I do if I experience this?
Headache Ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable painkiller. This usually improves after the first week or so, but if it continues after this, speak with your doctor
Feeling shaky or nervous This usually improves as you adjust to the inhaler. If it continues, speak with your doctor, as your dose may need changing
Muscle cramps, palpitations (feeling of a fast heartbeat) If either of these become troublesome, speak with your doctor

If you experience any other symptoms which you think may be due to this medicine, discuss them with your doctor or pharmacist.

  • Keep all medicines out of the reach and sight of children.
  • Store in a cool, dry place, away from direct heat and light.

  • If you are having an operation or dental treatment, tell the person carrying out the treatment which medicines you are taking.
  • If you buy any medicines, check with a pharmacist that they are safe to take with your other medicines.
  • Never take more than the prescribed dose. If you suspect that you or someone else might have taken an overdose of this medicine, go to the accident and emergency department of your local hospital at once. Take the container with you, even if it is empty.
  • This medicine is for you. Never give it to other people even if their condition appears to be the same as yours.
  • Never keep out-of-date or unwanted medicines. Take them to your local pharmacy which will dispose of them for you.
  • If you have any questions about this medicine ask your pharmacist.

Further reading & references

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Helen Allen
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr John Cox
Last Checked:
05/09/2012
Document ID:
3583 (v24)
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