What are Bronchial Dilators?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2019
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Bronchial dilators are more commonly referred to as bronchodilators. They are an essential treatment for many people with asthma or with other diseases like emphysema that cause the airway or the bronchial tubes to become chronically inflamed. This inflammation restricts passage of air. Often people with these forms of diseases have a condition called bronchial hyperactivity, which means that greater restriction and inflammation can occur suddenly when people are exposed to irritants, like cigarette smoke, or allergy-producing substances, like pollen. Part of treating quick inflammation can be using bronchial dilators.

There are a few types of dilators. Short acting forms that contain medications like albuterol cause instant dilation of the airway. Dilation means widening or expanding. When thinking of bronchial dilators, it may help to picture a dilated pupil, which appears much larger and open. Dilators are meant to open the inflamed airway to give more breathing room. The short acting forms work very quickly, but don’t cure chronic forms of the disease, and most of these medicines are inhaled so they reach the bronchial tubes in a hurry.


Long-acting forms of bronchodilators exist too, and these may be either inhaled or taken orally. They often have to be combined with a steroid in order to be most effective, and this is what medications like Advair® and Symbicort® do. The most important thing to remember about these medications is they usually won’t resolve asthma attack symptoms while they are occurring. Most people will still need to keep a short-acting inhaler on hand in case an asthma attack develops.

Bronchial dilators may also be classed in a third group and called anticholinergic drugs. These are usually used to treat emphysema. They include medications like tiotropium, which is available in oral and inhaled forms.

A few over the counter (OTC) dilators exist, too. OTC forms have medications like epinephrine. While they might halt the very occasional asthma attack, they may be of little use for people with severe asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Doctors recommend that people who have asthma frequently see their doctor to get prescription medications that are more suited for prescribed treatment.

There can be some side effects to many forms of bronchial dilators. They often contain elements that are similar to caffeine or ephedrine, and use can make people feel shaky and feel like their heart is pounding. These side effects tend to be less felt if people use a bronchodilator on a regular basis.


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Post 5

@strawCake - That sounds really scary. I have asthma too, and truth be told I'm a little afraid of the epinephrine inhalers.

I remember reading in the news years ago about someone dying from using one. There was a big uproar at the time about whether the inhalers should continue to be available over the counter or not. When that happened I vowed I would never use one unless I absolutely had to!

However, if I was in a situation like you were, I think I would probably try it. I try really hard to make sure I carry my albuterol inhaler with me everywhere though.

Post 4

I use an albuterol inhaler for my asthma. I'm not sure if I would necessarily classify my asthma as severe, although it's certainly not mild either! Anyway, I had to use one of those over the counter ephedrine inhalers once, and luckily it worked.

I used to work about an hour away from my apartment. One day I was in the middle of my shift and I started having an asthma attack. I frantically went to my purse where I usually keep my inhaler, but it was no where to be found!

I asked around to my coworkers, and no one had an albuterol inhaler. However, someone did have an over the counter inhaler. I used it out of desperation, and it actually worked! I was so relieved. I didn't want to have to call an ambulance or something right in the middle of work!

Post 3

@snickerish - I have members in my family as well struggling with COPD. Have you seen that commercial where the elephant is sitting on the COPD sufferer's chest as an indication of what it feels like to have COPD?

I thought the commercial was a great way to help others who do not understand what COPD feels like, understand it a bit better.

There are bronchial dialators for COPD and there are different types of them that are used for COPD so I think it would be a great idea to ask her doctor why a certain one might be better for her particular COPD symptoms or aggravations.

Also, my family member has a CPAP machine at night

; which helps them breathe. I cannot say that it was prescribed to use the machine because of their COPD, but I know it helps them breathe at night; so it also might be something your family wants to discuss with your mother in law's doctor.

Also, my family member has a CPAP machine at night which helps them breathe. I cannot say that it was prescribed to use the machine because of their COPD, but I know it helps them breathe at night; so it also might be something your family wants to discuss with your mother in law's doctor.

Post 2

My mother in law was a smoker for a long time as can be understood as at that time when she was growing up the effects of smoking were not as well known or understood.

She now has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (maybe disorder, but it is usually just called COPD).

She truly struggles in warm weather and I was wondering if any of these 'bronchial' or 'broncho' dilators worked for COPD; so that maybe we could ask her doctor about them.

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