What is Symbicort?
Symbicort is a long-term, combination inhaler used to treat conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Symbicort is a combination of 2 medications, a corticosteroid and a bronchodilator. In combination, these drugs allow for easier breathing and can help control and prevent symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing.
How does Symbicort work?
The first component of Symbicort, Budesonide, is a corticosteroid that reduces inflammation in the lungs. The second component, Formoterol, is a bronchodilator or LABA (long-acting beta 2 agonist) that relaxes the airway muscles, making it easier for air to pass through. Symbicort is a “controller” inhaler, NOT a rescue inhaler, and should be used every day. When used regularly, Symbicort has shown a reduction in the number of episodes of shortness of breath.
Symbicort comes in either 160/4.5 mcg or 80/4.5 mcg inhalers. Do not administer Symbicort more frequently than prescribed.
- 2 inhalations of 160/4.5 mcg BID
Asthma (12 years and older)
- Less severe asthma – 2 inhalations of 80/4.5 mcg BID
- More severe asthma – 2 inhalations of 160/4.5 mcg BID
(If no effect noted after 1-2 weeks of use at 80/4.5 mcg, the dose may be increased to 160/4.5 mcg for increased control)
Asthma (6-12 years old)
- 2 inhalations of 80/4.5 mcg BID
If you experience signs or symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as hives, rash, itching, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the face, mouth, or throat, seek immediate medical attention.
The most common side effects include:
- Sore throat
- Back pain
- Upset stomach
- Upper respiratory infection
- Nasal congestion
Tell your doctor if you develop:
- White patches in your mouth or throat
- Nervousness or tremors
- Vision problems
- Persistent sore throat
- Difficulty sleeping
Get medical help immediately if you experience chest pain, seizures, dizziness, fainting, or an irregular heartbeat.
Warnings & Precautions
Do not use Symbicort if you are allergic to budesonide or formoterol. Notify your doctor of any allergies, health conditions, or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Symbicort is not a rescue inhaler and should not be used for an asthma attack.
Do not suddenly stop taking Symbicort without speaking to your doctor first. The dose should be tapered off to prevent withdrawal.
Bone Mineral Density
Long-term use of corticosteroids can decrease bone density and increase your risk of developing osteoporosis. Certain risk factors such as prolonged immobility, post-menopausal status, and poor nutrition can increase your risk. Discuss with your doctor if you’ve been diagnosed with or have a family history of osteoporosis. Closer monitoring is recommended, and medications may need to be started to prevent or treat osteoporosis.
Symbicort is not approved for children younger than 6 years old. Growth should be monitored regularly in pediatric patients because Symbicort can slow growth. To reduce variability, a reliable growth scale such as a stadiometer should be used. Symbicort dose should be titrated to the lowest dose tolerated while still managing symptoms to prevent growth delay.
Diabetes and Hyperglycemia
Corticosteroids are known to raise blood sugar levels. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, you may have to monitor your blood sugar more closely.
Using Symbicort can increase your risk of cataracts, glaucoma, or increased ocular pressure. If you’re at risk for any of these conditions, baseline and routine monitoring is recommended. Immediately report any vision changes to your doctor.
Avoid contact with eyes. When priming the inhaler, ensure the mouthpiece is facing away from you. When administering a dose, ensure your lips are firmly wrapped around the mouthpiece before administering the medication. If the medication comes in contact with eyes, promptly rinse eyes with water and notify your doctor if persistent redness or irritation occurs.
Notify your doctor if you have heart failure, hypertension, or an irregular heart rhythm such as atrial fibrillation or bradycardia. Symbicort can cause a change in your heart rhythm called QT-prolongation which can be serious. Notify your doctor if you also take a diuretic or a water pill as low levels of potassium or magnesium can significantly increase your risk of QT-prolongation.
Using Symbicort can make you more susceptible to developing an infection. Notify your doctor if you are also taking an immunosuppressant, as this can further increase your risk of infection. Avoid contact with others who have communicable diseases such as influenza, chickenpox, or measles. Other infections such as pneumonia can be more likely to occur. If you develop a fever or notice worsening shortness of breath or a cough, notify your doctor immediately.
A fungal infection called thrush is particularly common and can manifest as white patches on the tongue or throat. Thrush can be avoided by rinsing the mouth with water after using Symbicort. Do not swallow the water after rinsing. Notify your doctor if you suspect you have thrush.
Liver dysfunction can cause medications like Symbicort to build up in your system. Notify your doctor if you have any liver problems such as hepatitis or cirrhosis. Monitor for yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes, as well as itching, abdominal pain, or dark urine, all of which indicate liver dysfunction.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Do not take Symbicort if you are breastfeeding, pregnant, or plan to become pregnant. Symbicort is classified by the FDA as a pregnancy category C. This means that some adverse fetal effects were noted in animal testing and that no adequate human studies exist. Risk vs. benefit must be closely evaluated with your doctor.
One of the medications in Symbicort, budesonide, is known to pass into breast milk. It is unclear if budesonide is harmful to babies, or if the other medication in Symbicort, formoterol, passes into breast milk. Discuss with your doctor before breastfeeding.
If immediate help is required, call 911. If overdose is suspected, call poison control at 800-222-1222. Symptoms of overdose include nervousness, tremors, chest pain, rapid heartbeat, or seizures.
It’s important to note that this is not a complete list of drug interactions. Notify your doctor of all medications you’re taking, including vitamins and over-the-counter supplements.
Strong cytochrome P450 3A4 inhibitors
These drugs may increase the corticosteroid effects of Symbicort. E.g. Ritonavir, Atazanavir
Beta-blockers may produce bronchospasm by interfering with the beta-agonist effect of Symbicort. E.g. Metoprolol, carvedilol
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) and tricyclic antidepressants
These may increase the effects of formoterol by causing vasodilation. E.g. Phenelzine, Amytriptyline
Non-potassium-sparing diuretics in particular can worsen hypokalemia and increase the risk of harmful EKG changes. E.g. Furosemide
Notify your doctor of all medications and inhalers you are prescribed. Do not take another LABA in addition to Symbicort.
These are inhalers that are a combination of a corticosteroid and bronchodilator, similar to Symbicort. While they are used for the treatment of asthma and COPD, they do contain different drugs so depending on the individual, one inhaler may work better than another. Do not take 2 combination inhalers at the same time, as this can potentially be harmful. Examples include:
- Advair Diskus (fluticasone and salmeterol)
- Breo (fluticasone and vilanterol)
- Dulera (mometasone and formoterol)1
This class of drugs decreases airway inflammation
- Flovent (fluticasone)
- Pulmicort (budesonide)
- Asmanex Twisthaler (mometasone)
Long-Acting Beta Agonists (LABA)
This class of drugs relaxes the airway muscles, allowing air to pass more easily
- Serevent (salmeterol)
- Theophylline (Theo-24)
- Theophylline is an oral pill, not an inhaler
This class of drugs works specifically to decrease swelling in your lungs caused by irritants or allergies.
- Singulair (montelukast)
- Zafirlukast (accolate)
- Zileuton (zyflo)
Frequently Asked Questions