Ephedrine

What is ephedrine?

Ephedrine is a decongestant and bronchodilator used for the temporary relief of mild, intermittent asthma symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing. It works by reducing swelling and constricting blood vessels in the nasal passages and widening the lung airways, allowing an individual to breathe more easily.

Ephedrine is available over-the-counter (OTC) as an oral medication in combination with the expectorant guaifenesin, and comes in the form of tablets, caplets, or syrup. It is not a replacement for prescription asthma treatments. Medicines containing ephedrine should only be used by people who have been diagnosed with mild, intermittent asthma by a doctor. Patients with more severe asthma should not rely on medicines containing ephedrine and should work with their doctor to ensure an appropriate treatment plan for their condition.

What is ephedrine used to treat?

  • Symptoms of mild, intermittent asthma
Common brands containing ephedrine:
  • Bronkaid®
  • Primatene® Tablets
  • Store Brands (ex: Walmart’s “Equate” store brand or CVS Health store brand)

How much ephedrine can you take?

Do not use medicines containing ephedrine unless you have been diagnosed with mild, intermittent asthma by a doctor. Different types of products containing this active ingredient have different strengths. That’s why it is always important to read and follow the Drug Facts label. Stop and ask a doctor if symptoms persist or if your asthma gets worse.

Safety guide for ephedrine

Ephedrine is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is safe and effective when used according to the Drug Facts label directions.

Ask a doctor before use if:

  • You have been hospitalized for asthma.
  • You have a history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease, or narrow angle glaucoma.
  • You have a diagnosis of asthma but use prescription asthma medications.
  • You have experienced seizures.
  • You have experienced a psychiatric or emotional condition.
  • You have trouble urinating due to an enlarged prostate gland.
  • Your cough occurs with too much phlegm (mucus) or is chronic and occurs with smoking, asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.
  • You are taking prescription drugs for asthma, obesity, weight control, depression, or psychiatric or emotional conditions.
  • You are taking any drug that contains phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine, ephedrine, or caffeine (such as for allergies, cough-cold, or pain).
  • You are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or are breastfeeding.
  • Before giving to a child under 12 years old.

Do not use if:

  • You have not been properly diagnosed with mild, intermittent asthma by a doctor
  • You are allergic to ephedrine.
  • You are taking a prescription monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) (certain drugs taken for depression, psychiatric or emotional conditions, or Parkinson’s disease) or for 2 weeks after stopping the MAOI drug. If you do not know if your prescription drug contains an MAOI, ask a doctor or pharmacist.
  • You consume foods or beverages that contain caffeine.
  • You take dietary supplements containing ingredients reported or claimed to have a stimulant effect.

Stop use and ask a doctor if:

  • Your asthma is getting worse.
  • You have difficulty sleeping.
  • You have a rapid heartbeat.
  • You have tremors, nervousness, or seizure.
  • Your cough lasts more than seven days, comes back, or is accompanied by fever, rash, or persistent headache. These could be signs of a serious condition.
  • You take too much. Immediately contact a healthcare provider or the poison control national helpline at 800.222.1222.

What are the side effects of ephedrine?

  • Chronic trouble sleeping
  • Nervousness
  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling weak
  • Head pain
  • High blood pressure
  • Involuntary quivering
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of skin color
  • Throat dryness