Buying an asthma inhaler over the counter? The essential facts.

Reviewed by:
Angela DiLaura, NP
Clinical Informatics and Quality Manager
Last updated on January 4, 2022

Asthma is a condition that impacts millions of Americans. Many people suffer from irritated, inflamed airways — and often, the best way to find relief is with an inhaler. 

But can an over-the-counter inhaler work as well as a prescription option? Is it worth looking for an asthma prescription online, or will heading to the local drugstore be more convenient?

Below, we'll take a look at whether people living with asthma should consider an online asthma prescription as a priority.

Around eight percent of all adults in the U.S. have asthma — three percent of children, too! So it stands to reason so many people are keen to use an asthma treatment inhaler from a local store. But what if you have never used an OTC asthma inhaler before? Here's what to expect.

When should I buy an asthma inhaler over the counter?

An OTC asthma inhaler is good for providing temporary respite from asthma symptoms. But they’re much different from the inhalers prescribed to you by a doctor. 

The main difference between OTC asthma medication and an online asthma prescription is that OTC does not help with inflammation. Instead, it primarily helps to relax your airways so that you can breathe easier.

You should only purchase an OTC asthma inhaler if you need short-term relief. If you are experiencing a lasting cough, chest pain, tightness in your chest, or are short of breath, always consult a doctor.

Are inhalers safe treatment options for asthma?

Depending on the brand or line of inhaler you buy, there may be some side effects. These can include insomnia, loss of appetite, anxiety, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and head or sinus pain. Some people can even experience tremors or bouts of hyperactive behavior.

Be careful using OTC inhalers such as Asthmanefrin, for example, if you have heart disease or are diabetic. Thyroid, prostate, and blood pressure problems are incompatible with this device. Other brands, such as Primatene Mist, have similar ingredients and so have similar side effects.

You should always make sure to avoid drinking or taking caffeine, too, when using an OTC inhaler.

Ultimately, you should always carefully read the packaging of any OTC inhaler you decide to buy. Any asthma medications online, overseen by your doctor, will tailor to your precise needs.

What do OTC asthma inhalers contain?

OTC asthma inhalers generally contain epinephrine or ephedrine. The former helps to open airways, though neither ingredient will reduce airway inflammation. Consulting a doctor for an online asthma prescription is the best route to reduce inflammation.

Some OTC inhalers, however, do not contain any active ingredients. For example, Vicks has produced a steam inhaler with a mask. This is generally useful in helping to soothe your upper airway and throat if sore. 

Can I use an over-the-counter inhaler instead of asthma prescriptions?

If you suffer from a respiratory illness such as moderate to severe asthma, OTC cannot replace prescription medication. Prescription asthma inhaler options are designed to offer more than short-term relief. For example, a prescribed inhaler used regularly can keep airway inflammation low.

Keep in mind that an OTC inhaler may sometimes interact with other medications. Always seek medical advice before purchasing.

The bottom Line

OTC inhalers are good at helping people with asthma find short-term relief from wheezing and related breathing symptoms. However, they cannot fully replace prescription medication for asthma.

Want to get asthma prescriptions online but are unsure where to start? Consult an online doctor through HealthTap — or read our other blog posts and resources for extra guidance! You don't have to suffer with asthma alone.

HealthTap Editors

HealthTap Editors

HealthTap articles are reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Visit to learn more and meet some of the medical editorial board members behind our blog. The information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. HealthTap is a virtual-first, affordable urgent- and primary-care clinic, providing top-quality physician care nationwide to Americans with or without insurance. Our proprietary, easy-to-use, and innovative apps and electronic medical record apply Silicon Valley standards to effectively engage consumers and doctors online to increase the equity, accessibility, and efficiency of ongoing medical care for consumers, providers, employers, and payers. In addition, with HealthTap, businesses can offer virtual primary care to employees for less than the cost of free coffee. HealthTap's US-based board-certified physicians are available throughout North America. For more information, visit

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