Sounds like 'ter-bew-ter-line'

Easy-to-read medicine information about terbutaline – what it is, how to use terbutaline 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 lasts up to 6 hours.
  • It belongs to a group of medicines known as short-acting bronchodilators.


  • The usual dose of terbutaline is 1 or 2 inhalations when needed for shortness of breath or wheezing, up to a maximum of 3 inhalations in a single dose and up to 24 inhalations daily.
  • When you take 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.

How to use terbutaline

  • Terbutaline is available as a dry powder in a device called a turbuhaler.
  • The turbuhaler device is breath activated, which means that it releases a dose of the powder, when you breath in.
  • To get the most benefit from the medication, it is important to use the correct technique when using a turbuhaler.
  • Your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse will explain how to use your turbuhaler — the following steps are a guide:
    • Unscrew and remove the cap.
    • Hold the turbuhaler upright.
    • Twist the grip at the base of the turbuhaler as far as it will go.
    • Twist it back to its original position - listen for the click.
    • Put the mouthpiece to your lips and breath in steadily through the turbuhaler.
    • Remove the turbuhaler from the mouth.
    • Breathe out slowly through the nose.
    • Rinse your mouth with water after using your turbuhaler.
  • The turbuhaler has a little window under the mouthpiece. This is called the Empty Soon Indicator. When a RED mark appears at the top of the window, there are about 20 doses left.

Possible side effects

Like all medicines, terbutaline can cause unwanted side effects, although not everyone gets them. Often unwanted 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
  • These are quite common when you first start using terbutaline and usually go away with time.
  • Changes in your heartbeat (faster)
  • Chest pain
  • Tell your doctor if troublesome
  • Have more trouble breathing and start to use terbutaline a lot
  • Tell your doctor immediately or ring 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

New Zealand Formulary Patient Information: terbutaline

Medsafe Consumer Information Sheet Bricanyl   

Learn more about inhalers & turbuhalers.

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Dr J Bycroft. Health Navigator NZ Last reviewed: 07 Jul 2015