Terbutaline is commonly called Bricanyl

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

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

  • Bricanyl®

What is terbutaline?

Terbutaline is used to treat cough, wheeze and difficulty breathing caused by respiratory problems such as asthma and COPD. It works by opening air passages in the lungs to make breathing easier. Terbutaline is called a ‘reliever’ medicine because it quickly relieves your breathing problems. It starts to work within a few minutes and the effect will last between 3 to 5 hours.

Image credits: Relievers Asthma Canada

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 terbutaline is usually known by the brand name Bricanyl turbuhaler.


  • The usual dose of Bricanyl is 1 or 2 inhalations when needed for shortness of breath or wheezing. If you have severe breathing problems you may use up to 6 inhalations at a time. 
  • You should not use more than 24 inhalations in any 24 hour period.
  • If you're taking more than one inhalation at a time, wait about 2 or 3 minutes between them.   
  • 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.


  • Keep your inhaler with you at all times: Make sure you have your inhaler with you at all times so you know where it is when you need it and make sure you have enough Bricanyl to last through weekends and holidays.
  • Storage: You can carry your inhaler in your pocket but it needs to be stored below 25º C, so don't keep it in your car during summer.
Do you need a preventer?
If you need to use terbutaline several times each week, talk to your doctor. You may need a ‘preventer’ inhaler, or the dose of your preventer inhaler may need to be increased. Preventers help reduce asthma symptoms and breathing problems. Read more about preventers.

How to use terbutaline

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 them to show you again if you still have any questions. Here is some guidance.

 (Health Navigator NZ & Auckland District Health Board, 2018)

Using your turbuhaler

  • Unscrew and remove the cap.
  • Hold the turbuhaler upright. Turn the base as far as it will go and then back to the original position – listen for the click. Do not shake the inhaler.
  • Sit upright and breathe out gently away from the inhaler.
  • Insert the mouthpiece into your mouth, holding the inhaler horizontally, ensuring your lips are firmly sealed.
  • Breathe in steadily and deeply. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds (count from 0 to 10).
  • Remove the turbuhaler from your mouth, then breathe out gently through your nose.
  • Replace the cap securely.
  • Rinse your mouth and spit out water after each use.

Cleaning your turbuhaler

Do not allow the device to get wet when cleaning. Wipe the mouthpiece with a dry cloth. Do not wash the mouthpiece. Keep the cap on when not in use. The device may clog if exhaled or dribbled into or if stored in an area of high humidity with the cap off or unsealed.

When to start a new turbuhaler

There is a window under the mouthpiece on the outside of the turbuhaler. When a red mark or number appears, there are approximately 20 doses left.

Precautions – before using terbutaline

  • Do you have heart disease?
  • Do you have an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroid)?
  • Do you have high blood pressure (hypertension)?
  • Do you have an irregular heartbeat or rhythm, including a very fast pulse?
  • Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
  • Do you have diabetes?
  • Do you have lactose intolerance?
  • Do you play competitive or professional sport?

If so, it’s important that you tell your doctor or pharmacist before you start using terbutaline. 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 terbutaline can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often side effects improve as your body gets used to the new medicine.

Side effects What should I do?
  • Feeling shaky
  • Nervousness
  • Tremor
  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Problems sleeping
  • These are quite common when you first start using Bricanyl and usually go away with time.
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome.
  • Changes in your heartbeat (faster)
  • Chest pain
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone HealthLine 0800 611 116.
  • Sudden worsening of breathing problems and you are using Bricanyl very often
  • Tell your doctor immediately or phone HealthLine 0800 611 116.


Terbutaline may interact with a some medicines and herbal supplements, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before starting terbutaline or before starting any new medicines.

Learn more

Terbutaline New Zealand Formulary Patient Information
Bricanyl Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet


  1. Terbutaline sulfate (inhalation) New Zealand Formulary
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 11 Jun 2019