All About Beta 2 Adrenergic Agonists

  • Beta 2 adrenergic agonists are a group of drugs used to treat respiratory diseases such as asthma and COPD by relaxing the smooth muscles in the airways and improving airflow to the lungs. 
  • There are two types of beta-2 agonists: short-acting (SABAs) and long-acting (LABAs), which have different onset and duration of action and are often used in combination with other medications. 
  • Patient education is critical in achieving optimal outcomes with a beta-2 agonist, including adherence to treatment regimens, recognizing worsening symptoms, and seeking medical attention as necessary. 

Mariya Rizwan

Pharm D

March 10, 2023
Simmons University

Beta 2 adrenergic agonists are a group of drugs that act as the mainstay treatment for respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the airways, which helps improve airflow to the lungs.  

In this text, we will discuss the different types of beta-2 agonists available, their modes of administration, drug interactions, adverse reactions, and patient teaching points. Whether you are a healthcare provider or a patient, this information can help you better understand the proper use of these medications and their role in managing respiratory conditions. 

beta 2 agonist prescriptions

Types of Beta-2 Agonists

There are two main types of beta-2 agonists: 

Short-Acting Beta 2 Agonist (SABAs)

These drugs provide quick relief of asthma symptoms, particularly in the case of acute attacks. They have a rapid onset of action and can begin to work within minutes of administration.  

Examples of SABAs include: 

  • albuterol (systemic, inhalation) 
  • bitolterol (systemic) 
  • levalbuterol (inhalation) 
  • metaproterenol (inhalation) 
  • pirbuterol (inhalation) 
  • terbutaline (systemic)

Long-Acting Beta 2 Agonist (LABAs)

These drugs have a slower onset of action but provide longer-lasting relief of asthma symptoms. They are often used in combination with corticosteroids to control the chronic symptoms of asthma.  

Examples include: 

  • albuterol (oral, systemic) 
  • formoterol (inhalation) 
  • salmeterol (inhalation)

These drugs may also be administered as a combination, such as: 

  • albuterol and ipratropium 
  • budesonide and formoterol 
  • formoterol and mometasone 
  • salmeterol and fluticasone

All these combinations are administered through the inhalation route.

What is a Beta Agonist Used For?

Beta 2 agonist drugs relax the smooth muscles in the airways so air can flow into the lungs. They also increase the cyclic adenosine monophosphate by stimulating the beta-2 adrenergic receptors in the smooth muscles resulting in bronchodilation, which can help relieve bronchospasm 

At high doses, these drugs might lose their selectivity, increasing the chances of toxicity. In most cases, they are given through the inhaled route because of fewer adverse effects than systemically absorbed formulations.

Short-Acting Beta 2 Agonist (SABAs)

A short-acting beta-2 agonist is the drug of choice to treat acute asthma attacks. It provides fast relief to the symptoms of asthma and COPD. Therefore, they are used on an as-needed basis when the patient complains about difficulty breathing. They are also effective in preventing the symptoms of exercise-induced asthma.  

If a patient uses short-acting beta-2 agonists inhalers frequently throughout the day, it may indicate poor asthma control. Inform the physician to assess their asthma prognosis and evaluate the therapeutic regimen.

Long-Acting Beta 2 Agonist (LABAs)

Long-acting beta-2 agonists are often given, in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs, such as corticosteroids to control the long-term symptoms of asthma. They do not help relieve an acute asthma attack because of their delayed onset of action. To be most effective, they should be administered on a schedule.  

Inform a patient that with long-term bronchodilators they might need to take a short-acting rescue inhaler that helps subsidize acute asthma symptoms. 

beta 2 agonist drug class

Beta 2 Agonist Drug Interactions and Adverse Reactions

Beta-2 agonists do not interact with any other drugs when given in inhaled dosage form. However, when beta antagonists such as propranolol, bisoprolol, or others are given together, their therapeutic effect may be impaired. Keep in mind not to give beta blockers to asthmatic people as they can exacerbate asthma. 

Adverse Reactions

There are several potential adverse reactions to using a short-acting and long-acting Beta-2 agonist, including: 


  • Paradoxical bronchospasm 
  • Tachycardia 
  • Palpitations  
  • Tremors 
  • Dry mouth


  • Bronchospasm 
  • Tachycardia 
  • Palpitations 
  • Hypertension 
  • Tremors

Beta 2 Agonist Patient Education

When administering a beta-2 agonist to the patient, teach them and their family members to follow these guidelines: 

  • Take the drug as directed by the physician. Even if you don’t have any symptoms, take the long-acting formulations as scheduled. Discontinuing the therapy abruptly can worsen your asthma. 
  • Take short-acting inhalers such as albuterol only in an acute attack. 
  • To prevent exercise-induced asthma, take the inhaler 30 to 60 minutes before.
  • Inform your physician soon if the prescribed medications do not provide enough relief. If you must take more than four puffs of reliever inhaler per day, your asthma may be worsening. See your primary care physician soon. Do not increase the dose of the inhaler on your own. 
  • If you take inhaled steroids for asthma management, continue taking them until your healthcare provider asks you to stop. It does not cause side effects like that of systemic therapy.
  • Do not take bronchodilators with other over-the-counter drugs and herbal preparations without the consent of your prescriber or pharmacist.
  • For a metered dose inhaler, follow these instructions: 
    • Clear your nasal passage and throat. 
    • Exhale and expel air as much as you can. 
    • Place the mouthpiece well into your mouth, and inhale deeply as you release the dose from the inhaler. 
    • Hold your breath for several seconds, remove the mouthpiece, and exhale slowly. 
  • Avoid accidental inhaler spray on your eyes, as it can cause temporary blurred vision.
  • To take over one inhalation at a time, wait for 2 minutes between two puffs.
  • When you take two inhalers, a bronchodilator, and a steroid inhaler, it is best to use the bronchodilator first, followed by the steroid one with a time gap of 5 minutes. It is because the bronchodilator opens up your airways and ensures efficient absorption of the corticosteroid drug.
  • Take a missed dose as soon as you remember, unless it is almost time for the next dose; in that case, skip the missed dose. Do not double up.
  • Use a spacer device with your metered-dose inhaler to achieve more effect from the medication. Wash and dry it after each use. 

beta 2 agonist medication

The Bottom Line

In summary, beta 2 adrenergic agonists are a critical class of medications used to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD. They work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the airways and increasing cyclic adenosine monophosphate to help relieve bronchospasm and improve airflow to the lungs.  

There are two types of beta-2 agonists: short-acting and long-acting, which have different onset and duration of action. Patients should follow their healthcare provider’s instructions for the proper use of these medications and be aware of potential drug interactions and adverse reactions.  

With appropriate education and adherence to treatment regimens, patients can effectively manage their respiratory symptoms and improve their quality of life. 


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