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Ipratropium bromide is a medication in the anticholinergic class of drugs. When given as an inhaled agent, it helps to decrease airway spasm, a process that causes wheezing and shortness of breath in conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Nasal spray preparations of ipratropium are also available, and in this formulation it decreases the nasal secretions associated with seasonal allergies or the common cold. Although the medication is typically well tolerated, common side effects can include headache and dry mouth.
The mechanism of action of ipratropium bromide is to act as an anticholinergic agent, which means that it hinders the ability of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to act within the body. Typically, this neurotransmitter helps mediate the action of the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes processes such as digestion, urination, and rest. Anticholinergics hinder these activities in a number of different ways. Other medications in this class include tiotropium, tolterodine, and glycopyrrolate.
There are two main uses for ipratropium bromide. The first is to increase the size of the bronchi, which are small tubes within the lung that carry air. Conditions such as asthma, COPD, and other obstructive lung diseases cause narrowing and spasm of these passageways, leading to wheezing and shortness of breath. Another use of this medication is to decrease the nasal congestion associated with conditions such as seasonal allergies or the common cold.
Depending on the desired use of the medication, ipratropium bromide is given in two forms. For patients suffering from bronchial spasm, it can be inhaled using a number of different devices. If taken to decrease nasal secretions, it is applied as a nasal spray. The medication is most commonly sold under the brand named Atrovent®. In the US, it is only available by prescription.
Common side effects of ipratropium bromide include headache, nasal irritation, sore throat, and dry mouth. The inhaled form of the medication typically causes more side effects, and can cause facial swelling and worsening of glaucoma symptoms. Some patients are allergic to the medication, and can develop rash, shortness of breath, and a decreased blood pressure when taking it.
Most patients tolerate ipratropium bromide is typically well, especially because the medication only reaches a localized area of the body. Patients with certain conditions are not good candidates for treatment with this medication, however. It should be avoided in patients with angle-closure glaucoma, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), and conditions causing obstruction to the flow of urine out of the bladder.