What is albuterol: Nationwide shortage of asthma drug could get worse

A drug used by those with asthma and other lung issues that has been in short supply for several months may now be even more difficult to get.

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The nation’s main manufacturer of liquid albuterol — a medication used as an inhalable mist to treat asthma – shut down in February.

Akron Pharmaceuticals is being investigated by the Illinois Department of Labor for abruptly closing the plant and laying off more than 400 employees.

In October, albuterol was placed on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s drug shortage list, a searchable database that provides information about drugs that are in short supply, plus lists information about product availability, amount and estimated duration of the shortage.

What is albuterol and what can be done about the shortage? Here’s what we know now.

What is asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory disease that causes airways in the lungs to constrict. More than 25 million Americans have asthma, according to the American Lung Association.

What is albuterol?

Albuterol is a drug used to prevent and treat difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath, coughing, and chest tightness caused by lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to Medline.

It opens airways that are constricted due to breathing problems.

Albuterol comes in various forms.

Which form of albuterol is in short supply?

Liquid albuterol used as an aerosolized solution is the type of albuterol that is in short supply.

Can you use other albuterol in place of liquid albuterol?

Inhaled albuterol is given through small, handheld inhalers. It can also be used as an aerosolized solution through a nebulizer machine.

A nebulizer machine is often used for children who cannot properly use an inhaler. It is mostly used in a hospital setting.

How dangerous is the shortage?

While the shortage is being felt most in hospital settings, people should not panic. An inhaler is just as effective as a nebulizer in treating asthma symptoms.

“Don’t panic,” Dr. David Khan, past president of The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, told ABC News. “A lot of this issue is mainly, I would say, amongst hospitals, and they’re looking at other alternative sources for liquid albuterol.”

Some hospitals are using a drug called levalbuterol in place of albuterol.

Which companies make liquid albuterol?

The other supplier of liquid albuterol, Nephron Pharmaceuticals, has had manufacturing issues, according to US News, but is trying to work through those problems.

When will the shortage end?

There is not an estimated date when supplies should be back to normal, though the FDA is working with Nephron to increase production to put more supply of the drug on the market.