Bronchodilators may widen airways by helping the surrounding muscles relax. This could allow more air to travel through the airways, which may help other medications work more effectively.

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In this article
  • Bronchodilators can be taken before other treatments, such as mucus thinners, airway clearance techniques, and antibiotics.
  • Many people with cystic fibrosis also take bronchodilators before exercising.

How Do I Take Them?

Bronchodilators, such as albuterol (Ventolin®, ProAir®, Proventil®) and levalbuterol hydrochloride (Xopenex®) are commonly inhaled through a device that releases a specific amount of medication with each use (a metered dose inhaler). Less commonly, they can be taken through dry powder inhalers or nebulizers.

For complete instructions on how to take bronchodilators, visit DailyMed, a service from the National Library of Medicine that provides information about drugs, including dosages and possible side effects.

If prescribed by your doctor, use your bronchodilator 15 to 30 minutes before you do your airway clearance treatments. This will enable the medication to relax your airways and allow you to breathe in other medications, such as mucus thinners and antibiotics, more deeply.

Inhaled Bronchodilator

Bronchodilators often come in handheld aerosol canisters. The inhaler may also include a spacer, a tube that attaches to the canister. A spacer prevents medication from being sprayed on the mouth and throat, so that more of it reaches your lungs. 


Always follow the instructions on the package of your inhaler unless your care team gives you different instructions. Typically, after shaking the inhaler, you squeeze it and it releases medication as you breathe in. Hold your breath for about five seconds before breathing out through your mouth. You should wait for 60 seconds before taking the second inhalation. A typical dose is two inhalations, but your care team may give you different instructions based on your specific health needs.

Liquid Solution

Bronchodilators may also come in the form of a liquid solution. The liquid solution is used with a nebulizer and compressor. A typical dose for the liquid nebulized solution is one vial.

What Should I Expect After Taking Them?

Bronchodilators can begin working in 20 minutes, and the beneficial effect can last for 4-6 hours.

You may experience adverse side effects when you take any medication, including bronchodilators. Common side effects of albuterol include:

  • Tremor.
  • Nausea.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Palpitations (awareness of your heartbeat).
  • Nervousness.

Common side effects of levalbuterol hydrochloride include:

  • Bronchitis (inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes)
  • Dizziness
  • Pain
  • Vomiting

When discussing any new medications or changes in dosages for medications you are already taking, be sure to ask your care team about:

  • Any potential side effects.
  • Which side effects might be more serious than others.
  • How long they might last.
  • When to talk to your care team if side effects don't go away or if they interfere with your quality of life.

Let your care team know if you feel any side effect that makes it hard for you to continue taking this medication as prescribed. Your care team can work with you to help you manage side effects or to adjust your treatment plan. 


Reference to any specific product, process, or service does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The appearance of external hyperlinks does not constitute endorsement by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of the linked websites, or the information, products, or services contained therein.

Information contained on this site does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects, or interactions. This site is not intended as a substitute for treatment advice from a medical professional. Consult your doctor before making any changes to your treatment.

FDA-approved drug information is available at  

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Airway Clearance | Medications
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