Reasons your asthma medicine might change

A change of medicine or device could help you manage your asthma symptoms better

Health advice > Inhalers, medicines and treatments > Changing medicines

From helping you manage your asthma symptoms, to switching to a low-carbon, greener inhaler or reducing NHS costs, find out why your asthma medicine or inhaler might change.

On this page: 


Managing worsening symptoms  

Your GP or asthma nurse may suggest changing your treatment plan to help you manage your asthma better. This might mean a new type of medicine or device, a different dose, or extra add-on treatments. 

It can sometimes take a bit of time to find the right medicines or inhalers to help you manage your asthma well  

Your GP will consider different a medicine or device for you if: 

  • your symptoms are not as controlled as they could be 
  • your symptoms have been getting worse
  • you’ve been using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week
  • you had an asthma attack, and your GP wants to try you on different medicines to try and stop it happening again
  • you’ve been taking your inhaler as prescribed and with good technique but you’re still having symptoms
  • you struggle with your medicine routine and would benefit from a preventer medicine you can take less often, or one in combination with your reliever medicine so you only have one inhaler.
    “Your medicine may also change if your asthma improves and has been stable for a few months,” says Dr Andy Whittamore, Asthma UK’s in-house GP. “Your new medicine will help make sure you’re on the lowest dose possible to keep your asthma symptoms under control.”

See your GP or asthma nurse if:

You're using your reliever inhaler three or more times a week. It's a sign your asthma is not well controlled.

An inhaler that’s easier for you to use 

Your GP or asthma nurse may suggest a different inhaler device that you find easier to use. Different types of inhalers need different breathing techniques to use them well.  

A different type of inhaler could be easier and help you get the right dose of medicine. 

Your GP might suggest a different inhaler device if: 

  • other conditions like arthritis make it hard for you to use your inhaler 
  • it’s hard for you to coordinate breathing in and pressing your inhaler at the same time
  • you struggle to get the right technique for your inhaler type
  • you want something that’s easier to carry around or that’s smaller
  • you want or need an inhaler where you don’t need to use a spacer
  • you want an inhaler that has a dose counter on the side
  • you want an inhaler that’s easy to clean.

Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist can show you how to use your new inhaler. You can also watch our inhaler videos

Switching to a greener, low carbon inhaler 

The NHS is encouraging everyone on a metered dose inhaler (MDI) to switch to a dry powder inhaler (DPI) if they can. DPIs such as Accuhaler, Easyhaler, and Clickhaler are lower carbon inhalers.  

The switch is good for environmental reasons. Metered dose inhalers use propellants that add to global warming and the NHS’s carbon footprint. 

Research has so far shown that switching to a greener, environmentally-friendly DPI inhaler works well for most people.  

As long as your GP or asthma nurse shows you how to use your new inhaler, and you can use it well, changing from an MDI to a DPI is not linked to symptoms getting worse or asthma attacks.  

Most adults find dry powder inhalers easier to use than MDIs because it’s easier to get the technique right. Dry powder inhalers are breath-actuated though, which means you need to be able to breathe in strongly to inhale the powder. Some people may find it hard to do this.

If you’re asked to switch to a more environmentally-friendly inhaler it’s worth giving the new low-carbon dry powder inhaler a try. Your medicine will continue to work in the same way. But if it really doesn’t suit you, you can ask to switch back.


If symptoms get worse or you have an asthma attack

Even if you can use your DPI well, your GP or asthma nurse may recommend that you still use an MDI reliever with a spacer if your symptoms get worse or you have an asthma attack.  

Your medicine has been discontinued

If your medicine has been discontinued your GP or asthma nurse should talk you through alternative treatments that would suit you. This may mean a different brand at a different dose, or a different medicine type altogether.

Reducing NHS costs 

Different companies produce copies of the most commonly used inhalers and these may be cheaper. As well as this all companies change the price of their inhalers from time to time, so some may become cheaper than others.

Your GP may prescribe you a different brand of your inhaler because it works just as well, but costs less and saves the NHS money. The medicine in it will contain the same active ingredients as in the original brand so it should be just as safe and effective. 

Guidelines do not recommend switching to different brands of inhaler if possible. The reason for this is that people get used to the inhaler they’re using, and the technique needed for it.  

If you are given a new inhaler or a different brand, make sure your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist shows you the best way to use it.  

You should also check the dose of any new medicine or brand. Ask the pharmacist if you're unsure, or if your medicine looks different to what you are used to.

If you can’t get on with the replacement, you can always go back to your GP and ask them to re-prescribe your original medicine.

Find out what to do if your medicines have changed.

Get advice if you’re worried about changing medicines

Concerned that some inhalers are linked to the tobacco industry? Find out more.

You can get advice and support if your medicines have changed by calling a respiratory nurse specialist on our Helpline, 0300 222 5800 (9am-5pm; Monday-Friday). Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728 


Last updated November 2021

Next review due November 2024

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