Bronkaid vs. Primatene: What's The Difference?

Published August 6th, 2020 by Chris Riley
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera
Updated Date: Jul 1st, 2021

Asthma is a chronic disease that affects the airways of the lungs causing difficulty in breathing and wheezing in patients who suffer from it. This is due to swelling of the airways that causes their narrowing, followed by mucus build-up within the  narrowed airways. There is no cure for asthma. The disease is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Every asthma patient has certain triggers that can cause an asthma ‘attack’, which is a sudden onset of symptoms. These triggers can be allergens or irritants like pollen, dust, pet dander, smoke or chemicals. A common cold can also trigger an asthma flare-up or attack. Once asthma is triggered, the airways begin to swell and become inflamed and the muscles of the airways tighten. This results in difficulty breathing because there is not enough space for air to move in and out of the narrowed airways. 

Asthma can be diagnosed at any age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2018 approximately 25 million people in the United States had asthma. Of these, about 20 million were adults and about 5 million were children. Living with asthma can be challenging, but there are plenty of medications available on the market to help make the condition manageable. Medications used to treat asthma can help prevent asthma attacks as well as provide quick relief for symptoms of an asthma attack. ‘Controller’ medications are used long-term and can prevent asthma attacks from occurring by reducing inflammation of airways in the lungs. ‘Quick-relief’ or ‘rescue medications’ are used to reduce symptoms of an asthma attack by relaxing the muscles around the airways and providing more space for air to flow through. If you need to take quick-relief medications more than twice a week, your asthma is probably not under control. Your treatment regimen may include a combination of both types of medications. 

Bronkaid and Primatene are two main over-the-counter (OTC) medications used for quick relief of symptoms due to mild and intermittent asthma. They are different than conventional OTC medications in that they are stored behind the pharmacy counter. You do not need a prescription to purchase them, but you will have to ask the pharmacist for help in buying them. Bronkaid and Primatene are both available for purchase at large chain drugstore, pharmacies, food and mass product stores such as CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, Walmart or Target.  

What is Bronkaid?

Bronkaid is an OTC medication used to treat symptoms of mild and intermittent asthma. It contains an ephedrine/guaifenesin combination that acts to relieve asthma symptoms that include chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheezing. It does this by loosening mucus that builds up in the narrowed airways of asthma patients, which allows a more productive cough that can expel the mucus out of the body. It relaxes the blood vessels of the airways allowing the patient to breath more freely. The ephedrine sulfate component of the medication is also a ‘bronchodilator’, meaning that it can relax the muscles of the bronchi resulting in relief of chest tightness and wheezing. The guaifenesin active ingredient of the medication decreases the thickness of secretions which overall reduces symptoms. 

Bronkaid is available in a single dose only that contains 25 mg of ephedrine sulfate and 400 mg of guaifenesin. The recommended dosage for adults and children over the age of 12 years is one tablet every four hours and a maximum of six tablets in a 24-hour window. Children under 12 years of age should check with their doctor before taking Bronkaid. 

Importantly, Bronkaid should not be taken with food or beverages that contain caffeine. In general, unwanted side effects that are caused by Bronkaid are few. They mostly include shakiness, trouble sleeping and feeling nervous or shaky. However, Bronkaid has potentially serious side effects such as increased blood pressure, or a faster heart rate even in people without a previous history of heart problems. Bronkaid should not be taken with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) or if MAOIs were taken in the past two weeks. 

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What is Primatene?

Primatene is another OTC medication that is used to treat symptoms of mild and intermittent asthma. The active ingredients of Primatene are ephedrine HCl and guaifenesin. Like Bronkaid, Primatene also contains ephedrine, which is a bronchodilator that widens the airways in the lungs that become constricted in asthma patients. The guaifenesin active ingredient is an expectorant that loosens mucus in the lungs by increasing the release of secretions. Increased secretions lead to a reduction in their thickness, which allows them to be removed much easier from the respiratory tract than thick mucus secretions. 

A single tablet of Primatene contains 12.5 mg of ephedrine HCl and 200 mg of guaifenesin. The recommended dose for adults and children over the age of 12 years is one to two tablets every four hours. A maximum of 12 tablets can be taken in 24 hours. Similar to Bronkaid, Primatene is not recommended for use by children. 

Primatene should not be combined with caffeine or other stimulants such as amphetamine. The side effects of Primatene are not usually serious, but in some cases Primatene can cause serious health risks. These include high blood pressure, a faster heart rate or a severe allergic reaction. Common side effects include insomnia, shakiness and feeling nervous. Primatene should not be combined with MAOIs or be taken within 2 weeks after taking MAOIs.

Is Bronkaid or Primatene better?

The bottom line is that both Bronkaid and Primatene are very similar in the way they work to relieve symptoms of asthma. Both drugs contain the same active ingredients that cause bronchodilation to open up airways that are normally constricted in asthma. They also both work to loosen up phlegm that causes chest congestion. The combined effects of each work relatively quickly and both medications are good over the counter options for treating mild and intermittent asthma. They also have the same reported side effects, potential risks and drug interactions. Even if you consider the cost of each drug, a pack of either 24 or 60 ct. of either Primatene or Bronkaid costs exactly the same amount and they are available at the same major pharmacies, drugstores, food and mass merchandise stores. 

The major difference between the two medications is in the bronchodilator active ingredient. While Bronkaid contains ephedrine sulfate as its active ingredient, Primatene contains ephedrine HCl. They also contain different amounts of each active ingredient. Bronkaid contains 25 mg of ephedrine sulfate while Primatene has 12.5 mg of ephedrine HCl. Bronkaid also has 400 mg of guaifenesin and Primatene has 200 mg of guaifenesin as the expectorant active ingredient. 

Which one works better?  Since Bronkaid and Primatene have different formulations of ephedrine, it might look like Primatene will be less effective because it has half the amount of active ingredients as Bronkaid, but this is not actually the case. The recommended adult dosage is only one tablet of Bronkaid (containing 25 mg ephedrine sulfate) taken every four hours, while one to two tablets of Primatene (containing 12.5 mg ephedrine HCl) can be taken every four hours. There is no evidence to show that either drug works better than the other when taken according to the instructions and as recommended by your doctor for quick relief of asthma symptoms. 

Which one should I choose?

Everyone’s body reacts differently to medications. It might be that your body responds better to Primatene or Bronkaid. Your doctor will recommend the drug that is likely to be better for you based on your own medical history and severity of asthma symptoms. Since one Primatene tablet contains half the amount of active ingredients as Bronkaid, this gives you a bit more flexibility in taking less amount of the drug in situations where your symptoms may not be too severe. However, you should always check with your doctor on the dosage that is right for you and whether you should take one or two tablets of Primatene per dose. Other factors on which medication you should choose will depend on other medications that you currently take, and whether you have a history of high blood pressure or heart problems. 

Buying Bronkaid or Primatene at a discount

Bronkaid and Primatene are OTC medications, which means that they will most likely not be covered by health insurance. You can get pre-activated drug coupons for either medication that can be used at your preferred pharmacy when you purchase either medication. The discounted price you can get from these coupons is approximately the same for either Bronkaid or Primatene. Additionally, a drug discount card can also help you save on the price of these medications. A great option for the discount card available from USA Rx is completely free and has no eligibility restrictions. You can sign up for the card here

When choosing either Bronkaid or Primatene to treat asthma, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist on how to take it safely with other asthma medications you are taking and if you have any additional concerns. 

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