How does this medication work? What will it do for me?

Formoterol belongs to the group of medications known as long-acting beta-adrenergic agonists. It is a bronchodilator, which helps to open airways and make breathing easier. Formoterol is used in addition to inhaled corticosteroids, as long-term maintenance treatment of asthma for people who are using corticosteroids regularly and are still experiencing regular or frequent symptoms of asthma. Formoterol is not intended to be used without corticosteroids as doing so appears to increase the risk of asthma-related death.

Formoterol should start to work within 1 to 3 minutes after using. Formoterol should not be used by people whose asthma is controlled with occasional use of short-acting bronchodilators. It is not intended to be used as a "rescue" medication to relieve asthma symptoms that are occurring at the moment.

Formoterol fumarate is also used for the long-term treatment of adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

This medication may be available under multiple brand names and/or in several different forms. Any specific brand name of this medication may not be available in all of the forms or approved for all of the conditions discussed here. As well, some forms of this medication may not be used for all of the conditions discussed here.

Your doctor may have suggested this medication for conditions other than those listed in these drug information articles. If you have not discussed this with your doctor or are not sure why you are taking this medication, speak to your doctor. Do not stop taking this medication without consulting your doctor.

Do not give this medication to anyone else, even if they have the same symptoms as you do. It can be harmful for people to take this medication if their doctor has not prescribed it.

COPD Assessment Test
Health Tool

Find out the current impact of your COPD so you can take steps to feel better and healthier every day.

What form(s) does this medication come in?

Each clear, hard gelatin capsule of white free-flowing powder for inhalation only, contains formoterol fumarate 12 µg. Nonmedicinal ingredient: lactose.

COPD Myths

Do you know the top myths around COPD?

How should I use this medication?

The recommended adult dose of formoterol for treating asthma is 1 capsule (12 µg) inhaled using the Aerolizer inhaler twice daily, in the morning and evening. Some people may need 2 capsules inhaled morning and evening as directed by their doctor.

For COPD, the recommended adult dose of formoterol is 1 or 2 capsules (12 µg or 24 µg), inhaled using the Aerolizer inhaler twice daily, in the morning and evening.

The dose for children 6 to 16 years old for treating asthma, is 1 capsule (12 µg) inhaled using the Aerolizer inhaler twice daily, in the morning and evening.

Many things can affect the dose of medication that a person needs, such as body weight, other medical conditions, and other medications. If your doctor has recommended a dose different from the ones listed here, do not change the way that you are taking the medication without consulting your doctor.

The effectiveness of the medication depends on the proper use of the device that delivers the formoterol. The powder contents of the capsule are intended to be inhaled. Do not swallow the capsules. Have your doctor or pharmacist instruct you in the correct procedure.

Do not increase or decrease the dose without first speaking with your doctor.

Formoterol should not be used to treat acute symptoms; it is meant for prevention purposes only.

It is important to take this medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. If you miss a dose, take it as soon as possible and continue with your regular schedule. If it is almost time for your next dose, skip the missed dose and continue with your regular dosing schedule. Do not take a double dose to make up for a missed one. If you are not sure what to do after missing a dose, contact your doctor or pharmacist for advice.

Store this medication at room temperature, protect it from light and moisture, and keep it out of the reach of children.

Do not dispose of medications in wastewater (e.g. down the sink or in the toilet) or in household garbage. Ask your pharmacist how to dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired.

Who should NOT take this medication?

Do not use formoterol if you:

  • are allergic to formoterol or any ingredients of this medication
  • are allergic or intolerant of lactose or milk
  • are not using a corticosteroid inhaler
  • have abnormal heart rhythms associated with fast heart rate
COPD Doctor Disussion Guide
Health Tool

How to speak with your doctor to get the best care

What side effects are possible with this medication?

Many medications can cause side effects. A side effect is an unwanted response to a medication when it is taken in normal doses. Side effects can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

The side effects listed below are not experienced by everyone who takes this medication. If you are concerned about side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of this medication with your doctor.

The following side effects have been reported by at least 1% of people taking this medication. Many of these side effects can be managed, and some may go away on their own over time.

Contact your doctor if you experience these side effects and they are severe or bothersome. Your pharmacist may be able to advise you on managing side effects.

  • agitation
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • irritation of the mouth or throat
  • nervousness
  • trembling or shaking of hands or feet
  • trouble sleeping
  • unusual tiredness

Although most of the side effects listed below don't happen very often, they could lead to serious problems if you do not check with your doctor or seek medical attention.

Check with your doctor as soon as possible if any of the following side effects occur:

  • fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat or pulse palpitations
  • dizziness or lightheadedness, especially when rising from a lying or sitting position
  • symptoms of high blood sugar (e.g., frequent urination, increased thirst, excessive eating, unexplained weight loss, poor wound healing, infections, fruity breath odour)
  • symptoms of low potassium in the body (e.g., muscle fatigue, weakness, difficulty moving, abnormal heart rhythms, nausea)

Stop taking the medication and seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • chest pain
  • signs of a heart attack (e.g., chest pain or pressure, chest heaviness or tightness, pain extending through shoulder and arm, nausea and vomiting, sweating)
  • signs of a serious allergic reaction (e.g., abdominal cramps, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, or swelling of the face and throat)
  • symptoms of a severe asthma attack (e.g., severe increase in shortness of breath, wheezing, cough)

Some people may experience side effects other than those listed. Check with your doctor if you notice any symptom that worries you while you are taking this medication.

COPD Quiz
Health Tool

Short of breath? Coughing? Take a short quiz to find out if you have COPD.

Are there any other precautions or warnings for this medication?

Before you begin using a medication, be sure to inform your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, any medications you are taking, whether you are pregnant or breast-feeding, and any other significant facts about your health. These factors may affect how you should use this medication.

Asthma related death: Do not stop using corticosteroid medications when formoterol is prescribed. Formoterol is not a substitute for inhaled corticosteroids. When long-acting bronchodilators, such as formoterol are used without inhaled (or oral) corticosteroids, there is an increased likelihood of death occurring due to severe asthma symptoms.

Bronchospasm: Occasionally, inhaled medications may cause the airways to spasm and close up, making breathing even more difficult (bronchospasm) and can be life-threatening. If you experience increased difficulty breathing after using a dose of formoterol, seek immediate medical attention.

Diabetes: Formoterol can cause increased blood glucose. If you have diabetes or are at risk of developing diabetes, discuss with your doctor how this medication may affect your medical condition, how your medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Your doctor may suggest that you increase the number of times you test your blood sugar each day, to ensure that the medication controlling your blood glucose is still effective.

Drowsiness/reduced alertness: In rare cases, formoterol may cause severe dizziness. Do not drive, operate machinery, or perform other potentially hazardous tasks until you have determined how this medication affects you.

Heart rhythm: Rarely, formoterol can cause changes to the normal rhythm of the heart, including an irregular heartbeat called QT prolongation. QT prolongation is a serious life-threatening condition that can cause fainting, seizures, and sudden death. If you are at risk for heart rhythm problems (e.g., people with heart failure, angina, low potassium or magnesium levels), discuss with your doctor how this medication may affect your medical condition, how your medical condition may affect the dosing and effectiveness of this medication, and whether any special monitoring is needed.

Treatment of asthma symptoms: Formoterol is intended for the maintenance treatment of asthma only and should not be used in place of a short-acting reliever medication (a "rescue medication") for treatment of acute asthma symptoms.

Be sure you have discussed with your doctor and clearly understand what to do in the event of asthma flare-ups.

When you are using formoterol, you should only use a short-acting medication (such as salbutamol, terbutaline, or fenoterol) as instructed by your doctor, when needed for relief of breathing symptoms. If you find you need to use your short-acting inhaler more often, your condition seems to worsen, or the relief from the formoterol doesn't last as long as it used to, call your doctor. These may be signs that your asthma is worsening, and they need to be evaluated by your doctor.

The dosage of inhaled medications should not be stopped or reduced without consulting your doctor, even if you feel better after starting treatment with formoterol.

Pregnancy: The safety of formoterol for use during pregnancy has not been established. This medication should not be used during pregnancy unless the benefits outweigh the risks. If you become pregnant while taking this medication, contact your doctor immediately.

Breast-feeding: This medication passes into breast milk. If you are a breast-feeding mother and are using inhaled formoterol, it may affect your baby. Talk to your doctor about whether you should continue breast-feeding.

Children: The safety and effectiveness of formoterol have not been established for use by children less than 6 years of age.

What other drugs could interact with this medication?

There may be an interaction between formoterol and any of the following:

  • alfuzosin
  • amantadine
  • amiodarone
  • amphetamines (e.g., dextroamphetamine, lisdexamphetamine)
  • antihistamines (e.g., chlorpheniramine, diphenhydramine, dimenhydrinate)
  • antipsychotics (e.g., chlorpromazine, clozapine, haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, risperidone)
  • apomorphine
  • atomoxetine
  • "azole" antifungals (e.g., itraconazole, ketoconazole, voriconazole)
  • beta blockers (e.g., atenolol, carvedilol, propranolol, timolol)
  • betahistine
  • bosutinib
  • caffeine
  • chloral hydrate
  • chloroquine
  • cisapride
  • corticosteroids (e.g., dexamethasone, hydrocortisone, prednisone)
  • dasatinib
  • decongestants (e.g., naphazoline, oxymetazoline, phenylephrine, pseudoephedrine)
  • disopyramide
  • diuretics (e.g., furosemide, hydrochlorothiazide, spironolactone)
  • dobutamine
  • domperidone
  • dronedarone
  • dopamine
  • ephedrine
  • epinephrine
  • famotidine
  • fingolimod
  • flecainide
  • galantamine
  • halothane
  • indapamide
  • lithium
  • lopinavir
  • macrolide antibiotics (e.g., clarithromycin, erythromycin)
  • maprotiline
  • mefloquine
  • methadone
  • methylphenidate
  • mifepristone
  • MAO inhibitors (e.g., moclobemide, phenelzine, rasagiline, tranylcypromine)
  • nabilone
  • nilotinib
  • octreotide
  • paliperidone
  • pentamidine
  • pimozide
  • procainamide
  • propafenone
  • quinidine
  • quinine
  • quinolone antibiotics (e.g., ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin, ofloxacin)
  • ritonavir
  • romidepsin
  • salbutamol
  • salmeterol
  • saquinavir
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs; e.g., citalopram, duloxetine, fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline)
  • serotonin antagonists (anti-emetic medications; e.g., granisetron, ondansetron)
  • sulfamethoxazole
  • sunitinib
  • tacrolimus
  • tamoxifen
  • terbutaline
  • tetrabenazine
  • theophylline
  • trazodone
  • tricyclic antidepressants (e.g., amitriptyline, desipramine, doxepin)
  • trimethoprim
  • vardenafil
  • venlafaxine

If you are taking any of these medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist. Depending on your specific circumstances, your doctor may want you to:

  • stop taking one of the medications,
  • change one of the medications to another,
  • change how you are taking one or both of the medications, or
  • leave everything as is.

An interaction between two medications does not always mean that you must stop taking one of them. Speak to your doctor about how any drug interactions are being managed or should be managed.

Medications other than those listed above may interact with this medication. Tell your doctor or prescriber about all prescription, over-the-counter (non-prescription), and herbal medications you are taking. Also tell them about any supplements you take. Since caffeine, alcohol, the nicotine from cigarettes, or street drugs can affect the action of many medications, you should let your prescriber know if you use them.