Sounds like 'ip-ra-TRO-pee-um'

Easy-to-read medicine information about ipratropium – what it is, how to use ipratropium safely and possible side effects.

Type of medicine Also called
  • Bronchodilator (opens the airways)
  • Reliever (relieves breathing problems)
  • Atrovent®
  • Univent®

What is ipratropium

Ipratropium is used to treat cough, wheeze and difficulty breathing caused by respiratory problems such as COPD. Ipratropium helps to reduce these symptoms, but it is not a rescue treatment for sudden breathlessness. It works by opening air passages in the lungs to make breathing easier.

Using an inhaler device enables the medicine to go straight into your airways when you breathe in. This means that your airways and lungs are treated, but very little of the medicine gets into the rest of your body. 

In New Zealand ipratropium is available as an inhaler and nebulising solution. Nebulisers are not commonly used – they are used in situations when using inhalers are not suitable. 

The information on this page is about ipratropium inhalers. Read more about nebulisers.


The usual dose of ipratropium inhaler is 2 puffs four times a day. 
If you have severe breathing problems you may use up to 4 puffs at a time. You should not use more than 12 puffs in any 24 hour period.
Follow your doctor's instructions carefully. The pharmacy label on your medicine will tell you how much to use, how often to use it and any special instructions.

How to use your inhaler

To get the most benefit, it is important to use the correct technique. Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to explain how to use your inhaler. Even if you have been shown before, ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to explain how to use your inhaler if you still have any questions. Here is some guidance.

 How to use your MDI (puffer)
Take off the cap and hold the inhaler upright.
Shake the inhaler to mix the medication.
  Sit upright, tilt your head back slightly (as if you are sniffing) and breathe out gently.
Hold the device upright, insert the inhaler into your mouth, ensuring that your lips firmly seal the mouthpiece.
At the beginning of a slow, deep breath, breathe in through the mouthpiece as you press the inhaler to release one dose or 'puff'.
Breathe in fully, remove the inhaler from your mouth and hold your breath for 10 seconds or as long as is comfortable.
Breathe out gently through your nose.

Learn more about metered dose inhalers

Using a spacer with your inhaler

Using your ipratropium inhaler with a spacer can make it easier to use the inhaler and also helps to get the correct dose of medication into your lungs. Spacers increase the effectiveness of your medicine. Read more about spacers.

Precautions – before using ipratropium

  • Do you have problems with your prostate, or have had difficulty passing urine?
  • Do you have glaucoma?
  • Do you have heart problems such as an unusual heart rhythm?
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start using ipratropium. Sometimes a medicine isn’t suitable for a person with certain conditions, or it can only be used with extra care.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines ipratropium can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body adjusts to the new medicine. 

Side effects What should I do?
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth
  • A change in voice (hoarse voice)
  • A different taste in your mouth
  • Difficulty urinating
  • These may go away with time.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Changes in your heartbeat (fast or irregular)
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring Healthline on 0800 611 116
  • Difficulty breathing or worsening of your breathing problem.
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring Healthline on 0800 611 116

Learn more

Medsafe Consumer Information Sheets: Atrovent

Credits: Written by Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr J Bycroft, Health Navigator NZ