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Which Asthma Medications Contain Ephedrine?

written by: Donna Cosmato • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 3/28/2011

Find out which asthma medications contain ephedrine, and why it is more difficult to find asthma medications containing ephedrine over-the-counter.

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    If you are an asthma sufferer, you may be wondering why it is getting harder to find asthma medications containing ephedrine. Because of increasing concerns about side effects, drug interactions, and intentional misuse of ephedrine, many medicines are only available by prescription, and the sales of over-the-counter (OTC) versions are strictly regulated.

    Image Asthma Medications Containing Ephedrine Image Credit/Ephedra/Wikimedia Commons/KasugaHuang

    Some of the requirements for purchases are: some form of government-issued identification, one package at a time can be bought, and products containing ephedrine cannot be sold in conjunction with products containing pseudoephedrine.

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    What is Ephedrine?

    What is ephedrine, and why is it used in asthma medications? Ephedrine has a recognized track record of success as a bronchodilator. It is an alkaloid that stimulates the central nervous system and the heart. It may also be called ephedra, ephedra sinensis, or ma huang; these all refer to the same herbal stimulant derived from the ephedra plant (Ephedra sinica.) The pharmacologically active ingredients of ephedra are:

    • Ephedrine
    • Pseudoephedrine
    • Norephedrine
    • Methylephedrine
    • Norpseudoephedrine
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    What are the Uses of Ephedrine?

    Ephedrine is used to treat asthma and other breathing problems and congestion, but it may also be used for weight loss, to increase energy, or to enhance sports performance.

    Its efficacy as a bronchodilator is recognized by the German Commission E and the World Health Organization. A monograph prepared by the Natural Standard Research Collaboration gives it a grade of B; “good scientific evidence for this use” (treating asthma).

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    Ephedrine Side Effects and Warnings

    Some of the potential side effects of an overdose of ephedrine include stroke, heart attack, or seizures. Never mix caffeine or other products containing ephedrine with an asthma medication containing ephedrine. Here is a list of other medications that may cause drug interactions if mixed with medicines containing ephedrine:

    • Amphetamines
    • Amphetamine derivatives
    • Aspirin
    • Antidepressants
    • Blood thinners or blood pressure medications
    • Guarana
    • Narcotics
    • Theophylline
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    Do Asthma Medications Contain Ephedrine?

    Medications to treat asthma which contain ephedrine available. Here is a list of such products, giving trade names or generic names, and type of availability.

    • Ephedrine/guaifensin syrup is available by prescription and OTC. An example of the OTC version of this is Bronkaid dual action coated tablets. According to the ingredient listing on the box, it contains ephedrine sulfate 25 mg.
    • Ephedrine capsules are only available by prescription, as is ephedrine sulfate solution 0.25%.
    • Fexofenadine hydrochloride and pseudoephedrine hydrochloride extended release tablets can be purchased with a prescription.
    • Primatene tablets are available over-the-counter and are listed as containing 12.5 mg of ephedrine HCI.

    The good news for those with asthma is there are asthma medications containing ephedrine. Consult your local pharmacist for assistance if they are not on the shelf, as some stores keep such medications behind the counter.

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    References

    The Tang Center for Herbal Medicine Research, “Herbal Information – Ephedra,”, 2003, accessed 05/26/2010

    University of Maryland Medical Center, “Ephedra,” Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, 12/14/2009, accessed 05/26/2010

    Natural Standard Research Collaboration, “Ephedra (Ephedra sinica)/ma huang,” 2010, accessed 05/26/2010