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What do the different asthma inhaler colours mean?

What do the different asthma inhaler colours mean?

Asthma inhalers come in lots of colours. However, the most memorable tend to be the brown and blue ones, probably because they are prescribed more frequently. People often refer to their inhalers by the colour instead of their name, as it can be easier to do so. But what do the colours actually mean and how reliable are they as a guide?

Craig Marsh
Medically reviewed by
Craig Marsh, Pharmacist Prescriber

Here we’ll take you through all the asthma inhaler colours and how to distinguish the different types of inhalers.

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Medically reviewed by
Mr Craig Marsh
Pharmacist Prescriber
on October 21, 2021.
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How reliable is the colour guide?

It’s nearly always the case that the blue and brown coloured inhalers reliably inform what type it is. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case as the colour codes for inhalers are purely down to the manufacturer’s discretion.

For this reason, you should make sure to read the packaging of the asthma inhaler before buying and speak to your prescriber if you have any doubts.

What does the brown inhaler do?

The brown inhaler is often called a preventer, which means it’s used to prevent asthma symptoms from presenting. Preventer inhaler names include Qvar and Pulmicort, although there are many more to choose from.

The names of the brown inhaler’s active ingredient may differ, but they usually belong to a group of medications known as corticosteroids. These shouldn’t be confused with anabolic steroids, which are infamous for use in performance enhancement in sports. Corticosteroids reduce inflammation in the airways, making it easier to breathe.

Not everyone will be prescribed a brown inhaler and most will start with a reliever inhaler, which is used when you need relief from asthma symptoms. If you have to use reliever inhalers often, it can be an indication that your asthma is poorly managed and a preventer will likely also be prescribed.

What does the blue inhaler do?

The blue inhaler is often referred to as a reliever. This means it treats asthma symptoms or attacks as and when they occur. So what is in a reliever inhaler and how does it differ to the other types?

Relievers usually contain a bronchodilator, which is a substance that opens the airways. In the case of reliever inhalers, these bronchodilators are fast acting, providing relief from asthma symptoms in a timely manner.

If you are prescribed both types of inhalers, it’s essential that you know how to differentiate between the blue and the brown. Preventer inhalers will do little to relieve asthma attacks, which can be dangerous if your asthma is severe enough. It’s for this reason that you should also keep the blue inhaler close to hand at all times and be aware of how many doses are left in the inhaler.

When using a blue inhaler it is possible to take too much which can cause an increase in the likelihood or severity of side effects. Side effects linked to the blue inhalers are usually short-lived and rarely dangerous. They can include a rapid heart rate and shakiness. Symptoms typically subside after 30 minutes to two hours.

What’s the difference between blue and brown inhalers?

What’s the difference between blue and brown inhalers?

To sum up, brown inhalers are usually those used to prevent asthma symptoms from presenting while blue inhalers are used to treat them when they do occur. But it’s also important to note that the colours are not always an accurate guide to which inhaler is which and there are many other types and colours to consider.

Always read the package insert before using any inhaler and speak with a doctor if you’re unsure about the one you’ve been prescribed.

What about the other asthma inhaler colours?

Occasionally, you may see inhalers of other colours. These different colours can signify different types of active ingredients as well as simple branding choices.

Some products have devices that are specific to them. Even though these devices work in similar ways, it’s important to know how to use your inhaler before you start the treatment.

Pink asthma inhaler

The most well-known pink asthma inhaler name is Fostair, which is manufactured by Chiesi Limited.

Fostair contains two active ingredients, a corticosteroid called beclomethasone dipropionate and a bronchodilator called formoterol fumarate dihydrate. This makes it a combined inhaler, providing a preventative protection from asthma as well as a fast acting bronchodilator for when asthma symptoms occur. However, patients may not be advised to use Fostair as a reliever too as often they will be prescribed a separate reliever inhaler.

Red inhaler

The most commonly used red asthma inhaler is the Flixotide evohaler. Flixotide contains only one ingredient, a corticosteroid called fluticasone propionate, which is a common asthma inhaler ingredient. It’s used to prevent asthma symptoms from occurring and so is classed as a preventer.

In this sense, Flixotide can be considered a ‘brown inhaler’, most of which do the same thing and often contain the same active ingredient.

Another red inhaler, although it’s really red and white, is the Qvar Autohaler. It contains a different active ingredient to Flixotide, beclometasone dipropionate, but does the same thing, prevents asthma symptoms from presenting.

Purple inhaler

The most commonly used purple inhalers are Seretide and Airflu Sal, both of which contain the same active ingredients; fluticasone propionate and salmeterol xinafoate. They are also used as preventer inhalers, to stop asthma symptoms from occurring.

Whilst they act as a preventer, much like the ‘brown inhalers’ they are usually considered a step up to help patients gain better control.

Green inhaler

The most commonly used green inhaler is Serevent. It contains one active ingredient, salmeterol xinafoate, a long acting bronchodilator, which also makes it a preventer inhaler.

What marks Serevent apart from the others is its colour is related to its reduced impact on the environment. Containing norflurane, it’s “greener” than some of the older inhalers but it works just as effectively.

Orange inhaler

The Flixotide Accuhaler Diskus is orange. The Accuhaler is a device that makes it easier for some to use, in that you don’t have to time your breath when using it.

The orange asthma inhaler has the same active ingredient; fluticasone propionate. This makes it a preventer inhaler.

Are there rules for asthma inhaler colours?

A standardised colour code for asthma inhalers could make things easier for those living with the condition, but the fact is manufacturers can currently design them in any colours they see fit. There have been serious attempts at tackling this issue, particularly when reliever inhalers often need to be used in an emergency, but so far to no avail.

It’s therefore important to always check the packaging and any instructions that come with each inhaler you receive.

It’s also the case that the packaging and the colour of the inhaler can change without notice. So it’s always advisable to not take the colour code literally when using inhalers and follow the instructions that come with it.

Different asthma treatments have different instructions and it’s vital that you know how to use them to keep your asthma symptoms well-controlled and the chances of an asthma attack at bay.

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