Bronchodilators are medications used to prevent or reverse bronchospasm, i.e. a constriction of the bronchi. The bronchi are the parts of the airway that branch off from the windpipe into the lungs. They consist of cartilaginous rings and smooth (involuntary) muscle. In people who have asthma, respiratory allergies or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), irritation of the bronchi can trigger bronchospasm. The smooth muscle surrounding the bronchi constricts, narrowing the diameter of the bronchi and reducing the volume of air which can pass through. Needless to say, this is very unpleasant and absolutely terrifying. Prompt application of bronchodilators can either prevent or at least alleviate the problem.


Brand/Generic Drug Names

Proventil/albuterol, Aminophyllin/aminophylline, atropine sulfate, Ephed II/ephedrine, Primatene Mist/epinephrine, Atrovent/ipratropium, Isuprel/isoprotenerol, Brethine/terbutaline, Theo-Dur/theophylline
Common uses
bronchial asthma, bronchospasm associated with bronchitis, emphysema or other obstructive pulmonary disease, Cheyne-Stokes respiration, prevention of exercise-induced asthma
Anticholinergics: inhibit acetylcholine interaction with receptors on bronchial smooth muscle
alpha/beta-adrenergic agonists: relax bronchial smooth muscle, increase diameter of nasal passages
beta-adrenergic agonists: act on beta2-receptors relaxing bronchial smooth muscle
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: increase cAMP relaxing respiratory smooth muscle
Class contraindications
hypersensitivity, narrow-angle glaucoma, tachydysrhythmias, severe cardiac disease
Class precautions
breastfeeding, pregnancy, hyperthyroidism, hypertension, prostatic hypertrophy, seizure disorders
varies by drug
Adverse Reactions
tremors, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, throat irritation, bronchospasm, dyspnea
Additional Information
Assess respiratory function
Evaluate therapeutic response: absence of dyspnea, wheezing
Date of most recent Update
August 26, 2002
Further information is available in the writeup for the specific name(s) of this medication class