What is Salmeterol?

D. Jeffress

Salmeterol is a prescription medication used to treat severe asthma and complications of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The drug is delivered with an oral inhaler that coats the airways and lungs with a dry powder. Salmeterol is designed for daily use to help prevent asthma attacks and acute shortness of breath episodes. Patients may be advised to still use short-acting inhalers or other medications if attacks do occur. Most people who use the drug as instructed by their doctors see significant improvement in their breathing problems and are able to enjoy more physical activity in their daily lives.

Dry mouth may be a side effect of salmeterol.
Dry mouth may be a side effect of salmeterol.

Asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema cause airway inflammation and constriction. Salmeterol allows the airways to expand by relieving tension in smooth muscle tissue. Specifically, the drug binds to receptor sites along the lining of the airways and facilitates the flow of chemicals that block muscle contractions. Salmeterol is often mixed with or used in addition to an anti-inflammatory steroid to achieve long-lasting, effective results.

Salmeterol is delivered through an oral inhaler.
Salmeterol is delivered through an oral inhaler.

Most patients who are prescribed salmeterol are instructed to use their inhalers once every 12 hours. Inhalers are usually prepared with carefully measured doses to prevent an accidental overdose. A doctor or pharmacist can explain the proper way to use the product before a patient begins daily treatment. Individuals are told how set up the inhaler to deliver a dose and instructed on the importance of taking single, deep breaths to ensure the medication reaches the lungs.

Mild, short-lived side effects are fairly common with salmeterol. Shortly after inhaling the medication, a person may feel lightheaded, dizzy, or nauseous. Lingering side effects may include headaches, sore throat, runny nose, dry mouth, and coughing. Less commonly, the drug can cause muscle aches, heartburn, and temporary tingling sensations in the hands or feet. It is important to seek medical help right away if chest tightness, coughing, or wheezing worsens suddenly after taking a dose, as such side effects may be signs of an allergic reaction. In rare cases, the medication can cause potentially serious complications related to a racing heart beat and blood pressure elevation.

Salmeterol is not effective at stopping an acute asthma attack. A doctor can prescribe another inhaled medication that helps to relieve sudden episodes should they occur in the future. Patients should also inform their doctors of their lifestyle habits, health concerns, and other mediation use before starting treatment with salmeterol to ensure it is the best option available.

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