BronchodilatorsSide effects

Bronchodilators can sometimes cause side effects, although these are usually mild or short-lived.

Bronchodilators can sometimes cause side effects, although these are usually mild or short-lived.

Some of the main side effects of bronchodilators are described below, but this isn't an exhaustive list. They may not all apply to the specific medication you're taking.

For information on the side effects of a particular bronchodilator, check the patient information leaflet (PIL) that comes with your medication. You may be able to find a specific PIL in the MHRA database on GOV.UK.

Beta-2 agonists

The main side effects of beta-2 agonists such as salbutamol include:

  • trembling, particularly in the hands
  • nervous tension
  • headaches
  • suddenly noticeable heartbeats (palpitations)
  • muscle cramps

These side effects often improve and disappear completely after you've been using beta-2 agonists for a few days or weeks. Contact your GP if your side effects persist, as your dose may need to be adjusted.

More serious side effects are rare, but can include sudden constriction of the airways (paradoxical bronchospasm) with some inhalers. Excessive doses occasionally causing heart attacks and a severely low level of potassium in the blood (hypokalemia).


The main side effects of anticholinergics like ipratropium include:

Less common side effects include:

  • nausea
  • heartburn
  • difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • palpitations
  • throat irritation
  • difficulty urinating

Glaucoma may worsen if the medication gets in the eyes when using an inhaler or a nebuliser.


Theophylline can cause serious side effects if too much of it builds up in your body. You'll usually need to have regular blood tests during treatment to ensure the levels of theophylline in your body are safe.

Older people are more at risk of developing side effects from theophylline, because their livers may not be able to remove it from their body.

The main side effects of theophylline include:

Contact your GP if you have any of these side effects, as your dose may need to be reviewed.

Reporting side effects

The Yellow Card Scheme allows you to report side effects of any medicine you are taking.

It is run by a medicines safety watchdog called the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Visit the Yellow Card Scheme website for more information.

Page last reviewed: 09/05/2016
Next review due: 30/04/2019