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What Is Bronchodilator Therapy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Bronchodilator therapy keeps a patient’s airways open and can be used in emergency situations for a patient with airway restriction. It involves the administration of inhaled medications to relax smooth muscle and limit inflammation so the patient can breathe comfortably. There are a number of options available for the management of conditions like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and allergies. The best option for a given case can depend on a patient’s medical history, condition, and response to medical treatment.

Two broad classes of medication are available for bronchodilator therapy. Some are short-acting and designed to be used as rescue medications for patients in acute respiratory crisis. These work to quickly address inflammation that swells the airways, causing them to close and restricting the patient’s available air. Others are long-acting medications used to prevent acute attacks. These will not be effective when administered in an emergency because they are designed to be used consistently over time.

Drugs used in bronchodilator therapy can work in a number of different ways to suppress the immune responses causing inflammation, ease smooth muscle contractions, and keep the patient comfortable. One potential risk of this therapy is side effects from long-term use of medications like steroids, which can cause complications for the patient. As a patient goes through treatment, periodic reevaluations can determine which medications are still necessary and whether the dose is appropriate. Sometimes it is possible to reverse airway inflammation and wean the patient off medications.

One popular delivery method is an aerosol inhaler that squeezes out a calculated burst of medication for the patient to inhale. Patients can also inhale powders, or use a nebulizer, which slowly delivers a liquid medication in a fine spray for the patient to inhale over time. Nebulizers can be used in emergencies where patients need a steady dose of a bronchodilator to keep the airways open and stable. For those on respirators, the bronchodilators can be connected to the ventilator used to help the patient breathe.

If bronchodilator therapy is considered as an option for a patient, the medical provider may recommend a careful risk assessment. This can cover potential contraindications or interactions that might make some drugs unsafe; a patient with a heart condition, for example, might be at risk of arrhythmias from some medications. Patients need to report for regular checkups over the course of bronchodilator therapy and should report changes, like increased reliance on a rescue inhaler, because these may indicate that the treatment needs to be adjusted.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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