Atrovent is the brand name for the medicine ipratropium bromide, which is a bronchiolator medicine that is used to treat acute breathing problems. It is commonly used to treat:  Asthma;  Chronic bronchitis;  Emphysema. More information

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Atrovent is a medicine that is used to treat breathing problems in conditions such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and severe asthma. The medicine is administered via an inhaler and can be taken by adults and children over 6 years of age.  

What is Atrovent? 

Atrovent is the brand name for the medicine ipratropium bromide, which is a bronchiolator medicine that is used to treat acute breathing problems. It is commonly used to treat: 

  • Asthma; 
  • Chronic bronchitis; 
  • Emphysema.  

It works by relaxing the muscles in the airways so more air can enter the lungs, making it easier to breathe. When a person has a severe asthma attack or is finding it difficult to breathe Atrovent can give immediate relief. 

This medication is part of the anticholinergic group of medicines, which treat several lung conditions. They work by blocking the neurotransmitter (the brain’s chemical messengers) acetylcholine, which limits the transmission of cells that affect particular functions of the body. This includes involuntary movements of the muscles in the lungs.  

When the airways narrow and cause difficulty breathing this is known as a bronchospasm. People with COPDs suffer from bronchospasms, some of which can be treated with Atrovent.  

When is Atrovent used? 

Atrovent is used for breathing problems due to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It gives fast relief when a person has difficulty getting air into the lungs. It comes in the form of an inhaler and is breathed in via the mouth. 

The symptoms Atrovent is used to treat are: 

  • Breathlessness; 
  • Problems breathing slowly and evenly; 
  • Wheezing (a whistling noise when breathing); 
  • Coughing; 
  • Tightness of the chest. 

Common conditions that can be relieved with Atrovent are: 

Asthma – a common condition that causes breathing difficulties. Asthma can range from mild to severe, in some cases leading to hospitalisation.  

Chronic bronchitis – when the airways of the lungs become swollen and inflamed. This is a contagious viral infection that can be treated. 

Emphysema – a long-term and progressive lung disease that occurs when the air sacs in the lungs become over-inflated. This causes shortness of breath and long-term damage to the lungs. 

Atrovent can be used in conjunction with other medications to help people with breathing difficulties. It may be used with long-term or steroid medications that are used on a regular basis to prevent breathing problems. For example, asthma is often managed by taking a different kind of medication each day, in the form of an inhaler, to alleviate asthma an asthma attack. But for many severe asthma sufferers this is not enough and certain triggers, such as pet hair, pollen or house dust) can cause an attack. 

In this situation, Atrovent can help to ease the breathlessness that asthma causes by clearing the airways.  

When a person suffers from acute bronchitis Atrovent can make their breathing easier by helping the air travel through the passageways to the lungs. These passageways have narrowed as they have become inflamed and they can be blocked by mucus and phlegm.  

Emphysema is different from bronchitis as it affects the air sacs and bronchitis affects the airways. But both conditions are linked to the lungs and the ability to breathe easily. Emphysema is when the air sacs have been damaged and are irreparable. When we breathe oxygen is supplied to our bloodstream via these air sacs, and if they are damaged it is difficult to breathe.  

The above conditions can have a severe impact on a person´s lifestyle. In addition to managing the conditions, the following should be observed to ease the symptoms: 

  • Stopping smoking; 
  • Undertaking exercise (if possible); 
  • Following a healthy diet; 
  • Avoiding air pollution; 
  • Breathing exercises (on the advice of a doctor). 

How do you use Atrovent? 

Atrovent 20 mcg comes in the form of an inhaler that you press at the same time as breathing in. It gives quick relief to breathlessness, often in a matter of minutes. This relief is short-term and can last for 4-6 hours. 

Before using your inhaler you should shake it. If it has not been used for a while you should press it a couple of times to check it is working correctly before you put it to your mouth. 

This is how to use your Atrovent inhaler correctly: 

  1. Remove the lid and check the mouthpiece is clean; 
  2. Shake the inhaler vigorously while holding it in an upright position; 
  3. Gently breathe out; 
  4. Tip your head back slightly; 
  5. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and close your lips gently around it; 
  6. As you inhale slowly press the top of the inhaler once to release one puff of Atrovent into your mouth. As the medicine is released you should breathe in deeply and slowly; 
  7. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds (or as long as you comfortably can) and remove the inhaler from your mouth; 
  8. Gently breathe out through your nose; 
  9. Repeat the above if you have been told to take more than one puff, but wait for one minute in between the puffs. 

Children may find it difficult to follow the above steps and to synchronise their breathing in at the same time as pressing the inhaler, so they can be given a device known as a spacer, which helps ensure the Atrovent gets into their lungs correctly. Older people may also find a spacer helpful if they are unable to hold the inhaler securely.  

Another way to ensure you are gripping the inhaler correctly is to use two hands to hold it. 

Take good care of your Atrovent inhaler and wash and air dry it regularly to ensure it is free of germs and bacteria. 

What dosages are there? 

One spray of Atrovent delivers 20 micrograms of the solution. This is sometimes referred to as a metered-dose. The container does not have a counter, so it is advisable to monitor how much Atrovent you have used and to always keep a spare inhaler for when the current one runs out. 

Atrovent is used as a short-term solution to breathing difficulties. It is not taken on a regular basis. If you find you are relying on your Atrovent inhaler often to relieve your breathlessness you should discuss this with your doctor. 

The usual dosages of Atrovent are: 

  • Adults – 1-2 puffs, 3-4 times a day while symptoms persist; 
  • Children aged 6-12 years – 1-2 puffs, 3 times a day while symptoms persist; 
  • Children less than 6 years – 1 puff, 3 times a day while symptoms persist. 

Do not allow a child to use this medicine without adult supervision. 

If the breathlessness does not reduce after taking the above dosages you should consult a doctor. You should not take more than the above dosages unless advised by a doctor as this is unlikely to improve your symptoms. 

It is important to take Atrovent correctly by following the steps above. Otherwise, the correct dosage may not enter the lungs. 

What are the side effects of Atrovent? 

As with all medication, Atrovent may give some people side effects as we all react to medicine in different ways. Some of the potential side effects that could occur when using Atrovent are: 

  • Headache; 
  • Dry mouth; 
  • Irritated throat; 
  • Flu-like symptoms; 
  • Stomach ache; 
  • Diarrhea; 
  • Nausea; 
  • Feeling dizzy 
  • Glaucoma. 

These side effects are provided for information only and you may not experience any of them when you take Atrovent. For a full list of the possible side effects please read the package leaflet carefully. 

Some research has been carried out that indicates that the long term use of some anticholinergics for older people could be linked to the development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, so it is essential to discuss the benefits versus the risks before using Atrovent on a long term basis. 

When shouldn’t you use Atrovent? 

You should not use Atrovent if you: 

  • Are allergic to any of the ingredients listed on the package leaflet. 

It is important you tell your doctor if you have any of the following conditions; 

  • Cystic fibrosis; 
  • Glaucoma (or you may develop it); 
  • Prostate problems; 
  • Problems urinating; 
  • Are pregnant or trying to get pregnant; 
  • Are breastfeeding. 

Atrovent should not react with alcohol or affect your ability to drive or operate machinery, however, if you experience side effects such as feeling you should not carry out these activities. 

Does Atrovent interact with other medications? 

Any medication can interact with others so it is important to tell your doctor if you are taking any other medicines (including herbal medicines) before you take Atrovent. 

It is particularly important that you tell your doctor if you are taking any other medicines (including inhalers) for breathing problems as these could affect how Atrovent works for you. 

Where can you buy Atrovent? 

You cannot buy Atrovent, you must get a prescription for it from a doctor. 

Can I get Atrovent without a prescription?  

No, you need a prescription from a doctor for Atrovent. 


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Assessed by:

Dr Imran Malik, General practitioner
Registration number: GMC: 4741365

Dr Imran Malik studied undergraduate medicine at King's College University in Central London and clinical studies at the prestigious King's College Hospital. He graduated with a MBBS degree in 2000 and went on to gain postgraduate memberships with the Royal Society of Medicine and also General Practice in 2006.