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What You Need To Know About the Albuterol Shortage

Circle Medical is a telemedicine service that offers primary care through the convenience of online care. Schedule your same-day appointment today to get started or read on to learn more about the albuterol shortage.

Why are albuterol inhalers in short supply?

Currently, the short supply of liquid albuterol can be attributed to the major U.S. manufacturer Akorn Pharmaceuticals closing three plants in February 2023. This closure ended Akorn Pharmaceuticals’ U.S. operations altogether. At this time, this leaves a sole manufacturer of liquid albuterol — Nephron Pharmaceuticals. Reports indicate that the increased demand is causing Nephron to have a backlog of orders, further exacerbating supply problems.

Albuterol supply being short of demand is not a new problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has had albuterol on the medication shortage list since October 2022. This is also partially because albuterol was used to treat COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). There was a surge of RSV in the U.S. in 2022.

The bright spot is that the shortage is not yet impacting bronchodilator inhalers. However, hospitals and individuals need to avoid overusing albuterol inhalers to avoid worsening an inhaler shortage.

What is albuterol used for?

Liquid albuterol is primarily used in nebulizers to treat asthma symptoms. The nebulizer converts the liquid into a mist, which is inhaled by the user. This medication is something that many people use for quick-relief breathing treatments. Albuterol is also used to prevent bronchospasm from exercise and treat symptoms such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness

When albuterol is breathed in through the mouth, it helps to open up the bronchial tubes, or air passages, in the lungs. Along with being used in nebulizers, it can also be used as an aerosol or powder in an inhaler. Typically, albuterol is used as needed rather than as a continuous treatment.

What should you do if you can’t get your prescription?

If you’re experiencing difficulties due to the albuterol shortage, you do have several options to help you get through the shortage. Here are some of the options you can look into if you’re unable to get your prescription:

  • Get in touch with your primary care doctor or the doctor in charge of your asthma treatment to talk about alternatives. There are several generics and alternative medications to albuterol that they may be able to recommend in the interim.
  • Check other pharmacy options. If your pharmacy is unable to fill your prescription, you may be able to find other pharmacies that have albuterol in stock. There are also online pharmacies to consider. You can also talk to your primary care doctor to see if they’re aware of any pharmacies near you that currently have the medication in stock.
  • Make sure you use the albuterol medication you have. Check your inhaler or nebulizer to see if there is any medication left. While using expired albuterol isn’t ideal, it can sometimes be used if necessary. However, it may not be as effective as albuterol which hasn't expired. 
  • Only use your albuterol inhaler as needed or as recommended by your doctor. The canisters can last longer if they’re not overused or used unnecessarily.
  • Make sure to follow your treatment plan and discuss ways to reduce flare-ups with your primary care provider. Following your lifestyle changes and avoiding triggers can help you reduce your need for using your albuterol inhaler.
  • If you’re overusing your albuterol inhaler out of necessity, make sure to notify your primary care doctor or asthma specialist. It’s possible that your asthma treatment isn’t what you need at this time and adjustments may be needed to better control your symptoms.

Not having access to your prescription is never an ideal situation, but exploring these alternative plans may be your best option until the shortage is alleviated. There’s no word on when that might happen, so following these steps can be helpful in the meantime.

Are there any alternatives?

As mentioned, there are alternative medications to albuterol that your primary care provider or asthma specialist may recommend if you’re unable to fill your prescription. One of the most commonly used inhaler medications is levalbuterol, which may be a viable alternative to albuterol. There are also generic versions of albuterol. You can look into the list of albuterol generics and brand-name inhalers to see if they might be available at your pharmacy over your current prescription.

Anytime you seek alternatives to albuterol or any prescription medication, you will need to consult your primary care provider. Your primary care provider can adjust your prescriptions as medically necessary and help you find the best possible path to treatment.

Does albuterol expire?

Albuterol does have an expiration date. Once albuterol passes its expiration date, it generally becomes less effective at alleviating symptoms. Typically, the expiration date for albuterol is about one year. To keep your albuterol medication effective until its expiration date, it's best to keep it stored at room temperature, away from light, heat sources and moisture.

You can also prolong the shelf life of albuterol by capping your mouthpiece after using it. Once your inhaler runs out of albuterol, it should be discarded. As mentioned, expired albuterol can be used if it's a medical emergency and you don’t have other options, but a new inhaler should always be used if possible. If you need to use expired albuterol in an emergency, make sure to talk to emergency services to make sure the situation is properly handled.

If your albuterol has recently expired and you want to continue using it when you can’t access prescriptions, remember to contact your primary care doctor. This way you can keep them apprised of your situation and get recommendations for alternatives when possible.

Talk to a telehealth doctor today about your asthma

Getting asthma treatment by going to the doctor in person can be inconvenient, especially if you’re needing to update your treatment plan often due to medication shortages. That’s where telehealth can help. With online care and treatment, you can talk to board-certified primary care providers from the comfort of your home. No more waiting rooms, no more driving to the doctor’s office and no more waiting days or weeks to get in to see the doctor.

Circle Medical offers same-day appointments, and our online app makes it convenient to access your treatment plans and ask your provider questions. With Circle Medical, you can get the same treatment you would in person without having to leave the house. Meaning you can adjust your treatment and adjust your prescriptions when medically appropriate. Ready to give online care a try?

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Circle Medical treatment doesn’t stop with just asthma. With over 200 board-certified providers, our network is qualified to diagnose and treat a variety of conditions. 

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