The Independent Pharmacy

Can You Buy Inhalers Over the Counter in the UK?

Andy Boysan
Andy BoysanBPharmDirector & Superintendent Pharmacist

Reviewed on 28 Jun 2023

Approximately 160,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with asthma every year, with asthma sufferers making up around 12% of the population — that’s roughly 1 in 8 people.

The typical person diagnosed with asthma will carry an inhaler around with them, an inhaler being a small handheld device that delivers medication directly to the lungs to help manage asthma symptoms.

Inhalers help people with asthma to breathe more easily by reducing airway inflammation and opening up constricted airways, providing quick, short-term relief during asthma attacks and helping to prevent symptoms over time.

Why types of inhalers are available?

Asthma inhalers typically fall into two categories, offering either short-term relief or long-term symptom management: the latter are referred to as preventers, whereas the former are called relievers. Some inhalers provide a combination of short and long-term relief, and these are naturally dubbed combination inhalers.

Reliever inhalers

As the name suggests, reliever inhalers are designed to provide immediate, effective relief from asthma symptoms. They’re typically used when someone is experiencing — or feels they may be about to experience — an asthma attack, relaxing the muscles in their airways and making it easier to breathe. Reliever inhalers include Ventolin and Salamol, and they’re almost always blue.

Ventolin Inhaler & Accuhaler
Ventolin Inhaler & Accuhaler
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Salamol Easi-Breathe Inhaler
Salamol Easi-Breathe Inhaler
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Preventer inhalers

Preventer inhalers are also appropriately named, since they’re used for the long-term prevention of asthma attacks. If you have asthma, you should use a preventer regularly (even when you have no symptoms) to reduce your risk of suffering an attack. They typically contain corticosteroids and work by reducing inflammation in the airways. Preventer inhalers include Clenil, Qvar, and Symbicort. They’re usually brown or red.

Can I buy inhalers over the counter?

No inhalers licensed for the treatment of asthma or other pulmonary conditions are available to buy over the counter (OTC) in the UK. Asthma inhalers are prescription-only medications, and therefore you will need to be assessed and formally diagnosed by your doctor before you can be prescribed a reliever or preventer inhaler.

However, if you have been diagnosed with asthma and you’ve already been prescribed an inhaler to relieve your symptoms, you may be able to purchase replacement or spare inhalers online without having to book a follow-up appointment with your GP.

At The Independent Pharmacy, for example (a trusted online pharmacy regulated by the Care Quality Commission), you can request an additional inhaler by completing a short online consultation. Once our medical team is satisfied that you require the inhaler, you can have it delivered to your door, possibly even the next day.

Can you buy Ventolin over the counter?

Ventolin — a reliever inhaler which provides fast relief from asthma symptoms — is a prescription-only medication, which means it cannot be purchased over the counter in the UK. You will need to obtain a prescription from your GP to buy Ventolin, and in most cases, it’s necessary for you to have had an up-to-date asthma review.

If you have previously been prescribed Ventolin by a GP, you may be able to buy additional Ventolin inhalers online — for example, because you’ve lost yours or you require a spare in case of emergencies — through a registered online pharmacy when you complete an online health consultation.

At The Independent Pharmacy, we sell Ventolin in two forms:

  • The Accuhaler is a plastic device that contains a 60-blister strip, each containing a 200mcg dosage of microfine salbutamol combined with lactose.
  • The Evohaler is a pressurised metal device, with each inhalation containing 100mcg of salbutamol.

Where can I buy Ventolin inhalers?

  • You can get a Ventolin inhaler with a prescription after being assessed by your GP.
  • You can buy Ventolin inhalers from regulated online pharmacies, such as The Independent Pharmacy, after completing an online medical consultation — but only if you’ve previously been prescribed the medication by your GP.

Regardless of the method you choose to obtain your Ventolin inhaler, it’s essential that you speak to a healthcare professional before starting or altering any medication. At The Independent Pharmacy, for asthma treatments we’ll be required to consult with your GP to ensure we’re aware of all treatments you’re currently receiving, ensuring you only receive subsequent medications that are necessary and safe.

How do I get an inhaler without seeing a doctor?

Generally speaking, you’ll require a formal diagnosis and prescription from your doctor in order to get an asthma inhaler. However, if you’ve previously been diagnosed with asthma and prescribed an inhaler by your GP, you may be able to purchase spares or replacements online without having to book a follow-up appointment with your surgery.

How to buy a reliever inhaler

Reliever inhalers are essential to have on hand when asthma symptoms strike. If you’ve not previously been prescribed a reliever inhaler, you’ll need to make an appointment with your GP so they can assess your symptoms and provide you with a prescription for one if required.

Alternatively, if you’ve been prescribed a reliever inhaler by your GP and you’d like to order an additional one (perhaps because you’ve lost it or you require a spare for your gym bag), you can purchase your reliever inhaler online from The Independent Pharmacy. You’ll simply need to complete an online health assessment for our online doctor to review and approve.

Reliever inhalers available to purchase online include:

How to buy a preventer inhaler

Preventer inhalers are the bedrock of asthma treatment — as the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” They are not available over the counter in the UK, which means you’ll generally require a prescription from your GP in order to get one.

However, provided you are currently receiving this treatment, you can request a spare or replacement preventer inhaler online through The Independent Pharmacy if you don’t have time to visit your GP. Simply select your inhaler, complete our straightforward online health questionnaire, and we’ll confirm whether you’re approved to purchase a preventer inhaler.

Preventer inhalers available to purchase online include:

If you live in the UK and you’ve been diagnosed with asthma, you may be prescribed an inhaler to help relieve or prevent symptoms. And while all inhalers currently require a prescription from a doctor, you can order spare or replacement inhalers quickly and conveniently through an online pharmacist such as The Independent Pharmacy.

For more information on asthma inhalers available to order online, head to our asthma treatments hub — our inhalers can be ordered quickly and securely following a short online consultation, with next-day delivery to all UK addresses. To ensure you’re using your inhaler correctly, check out our guide to asthma inhalers using the spacer technique.

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