Topic Overview

Medicines for quick relief of the narrowed
bronchial tubes caused by
asthma include short-acting beta2-agonists. These
medicines relieve sudden increases of symptoms (asthma attacks)
quickly. But overuse may be harmful.

Overuse of short-acting
beta2-agonists has been associated with worsening asthma and increased risk of
death.footnote 1 People who have severe asthma usually are the ones
at greatest risk for illness and death from asthma. They may be taking higher
doses of short-acting beta2-agonists to control their symptoms instead of
increasing the use of anti-inflammatory medicine such as inhaled

People who overuse
short-acting beta2-agonists may feel their asthma is under control when, in
fact, inflammation in the airways is becoming worse, putting them in danger of
a severe, life-threatening attack (status asthmaticus).


  • May delay medical care and increase your chances
    of having a severe asthma attack that can be life-threatening.
  • Can
    decrease the future effectiveness of these medicines.
  • Treats the
    early narrowing of bronchial tubes without treating long-term inflammation.

In general, you may need more long-term treatment if you are
using short-acting beta2-agonists on more than 2 days a week (except before
exercise). Talk to your doctor if you are using your quick-relief medicine this
often. Frequent use of quick-relief medicines may mean that your symptoms and
inflammation are not well controlled.



  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (2007). Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Available online:


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD – Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Lora J. Stewart, MD – Allergy and Immunology

Current as ofMarch 25, 2017