What are beta-2 adrenergic agonists? - Allergy treatments

Beta-2 adrenergic agonists are a type of drug used in to combat symptoms of asthma. These work by acting on the nervous system, particularly the nerves supplying the muscles around your airways. They cause these muscles around the airways to relax, allowing the airways to open up again. Short acting beta-2 adrenergic agonists, such as salbutamol and terbutaline, are very useful for treating mild to moderate symptoms of asthma. These should be used as required, rather than regularly. These can also be used just before a session of exercise to lessen symptoms you might get when exercising. Longer acting beta-2 adrenergic agonists, such as salmeterol and formoterol, can be used regularly, they take longer to work but their effects last longer. These are particularly useful when your asthma symptoms are giving you difficulty in sleeping.

Beta-2 adrenergic agonists are most useful when taken by inhaling (from a pressurised-metered dose inhaler). Inhalers come in different colours, indicating what type of drug is inside. The blue inhaler is a short acting beta-2 adrenergic agonist, and is the inhaler you are likely to be given first. The brown inhaler is a corticosteroid, and you might be given this to use daily if the blue inhaler is not giving you enough relief. The green inhaler is a long acting beta-2 agonist, to be taken daily, and you may be given this if you are not getting enough relief from your blue and brown inhalers. For children and the elderly, a device known as a spacer may help you take your inhaler. This is a large chamber, you puff your inhaler into the chamber and breathe from the chamber. There are also inhalers that release the drug only when you breathe in deeply too, these can be used for adults and older children.

There are a number of other ways to get beta-2 adrenergic agonists into your body. These include tablets and injections as well. However, using an inhaler is more effective and tends to produce fewer side effects.

Caution may be needed if you have heart problems as well, as the drug may be able to cause problems with heart rhythms. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is important that you use an inhaler rather than tablets or an injection, as injections and tablets might cause problems with your womb or your heart. A very common side effect is a fine tremor – this is due to the actions of the drug on your nervous system. Other side effects include headaches and muscle cramps, as well as problems with heart rhythms.

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