Overuse of Blue Asthma Inhalers

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Overuse of Blue Asthma Inhalers

Are you supporting a person who uses a blue asthma inhaler?

Asthma UK warns that overusing reliever inhalers can be dangerous.

Types of Inhalers


People living with asthma are usually given a “preventer” inhaler for regular use to help control asthma, and a “reliever” inhaler for short-term relief (often a blue colour).

Preventer inhalers contain steroids to help reduce swelling in the lungs. A person may not notice any difference to their asthma at the time of using their regular preventer inhaler, which is normal.

The ‘blue’ reliever inhaler acts quickly and relaxes the muscles surrounding the airways and gives emergency relief when a person is having an asthma attack. You should notice an improvement in a person’s breathing within a few minutes of using the ‘blue’ reliever inhaler.

Common Misunderstandings About Blue Asthma Inhalers


The ‘blue’ reliever inhaler however does not reduce swelling and that is where the confusion often lies. The ‘blue’ reliever inhaler helps to keep the airways in the lungs open, but does not treat the underlying problem.


If the reliever inhaler is needed more often, it may mean the condition is getting worse and may require urgent assistance, or, alternatively, a different treatment plan.

Asthma and Lung UK say that an estimated 1 in 5 people living with asthma in the UK are using their (blue) reliever inhaler instead of their preventer one. Overusing a reliever inhaler actually puts a person at higher risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

What is Classed as ‘Overuse’?


If a person with asthma is needing to use their blue reliever inhaler more than 3 times each week without seeing a doctor (or is prescribed more than 12 reliever inhalers in a year), it is a sign that they are not managing their condition and that their treatment needs reviewing.


Asthma and Lung UK say that “4 people still die of an asthma attack every day, but deaths from asthma are often preventable.” Therefore, it is important that if a person needs to use their reliever inhaler more than 3 times a week, report it to your Manager. Managers need to check when the person last had their asthma review and contact the GP if there is not a recent review on record (or if they have any other concerns).



Report to your Manager if you think a person you support is overusing their blue inhaler.

Overuse could be:

  • more than 3 times per week
  • more than 4 times in 24 hours
  • in the middle of the night.

Also report to your Manager if you have any concerns about the wellbeing of the person.



Contact the GP if a person is overusing their blue inhaler and request an asthma review.

“Good asthma care, including a written asthma action plan and regular asthma reviews, makes it easier to stay on top of symptoms and cut your risk of an asthma attack” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP.


To ensure your staff are trained and knowledgable about the treatment of asthma, and the use of inhalers, check out our OPUS “Asthma and Inhalers” course.

This engaging course is delivered by one of our experienced Pharmacist trainers to your staff. 


Contact our friendly Pharmacist team on 0333 939 0053 or [email protected] to discuss the handling of medicines in your care setting.