Breo Ellipta vs. Symbicort

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS


Breo Ellipta and Symbicort are two of the medications available to treat symptoms associated with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). While both of these medications are used to treat symptoms of the same disease, they have some differences.

Symptoms of COPD include difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and coughing up mucus. Those who suffer from this disorder can experience flare-ups. These flare-ups are called exacerbations. Exacerbations can cause the usual symptoms of COPD to become much worse. These can last for days or even weeks.

When exacerbations occur, it is necessary to treat them. Treatments can include steroids, antibiotics, or even hospital stays.

Medications such as Breo Ellipta and Symbicort are effective in managing day-to-day symptoms of COPD and reducing exacerbations. Healthcare providers will consider each patient’s medical history to decide which prescription would be the best course of treatment for them.

What is Breo Ellipta?

Breo Ellipta (Breo) is a once-daily medication used to treat various respiratory issues such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and COPD. Breo is not a rescue inhaler and should not be used in case of a sudden breathing problem.

Breo was FDA approved for usage in 2013. It is meant to be a long-term use prescription and can work for up to 24 hours when used regularly.

This medication is a dry powder inhaler that is inhaled through the mouth. The dosage amounts are pre-measured in the Breo unit, and opening the cap breaks each pre-dosed capsule for use. Breo is a once daily medication and should not be used more often than prescribed. 

Breo contains two medications in one inhaler. These medications are:

  • LABA – a bronchodilator that relaxes the muscles around the airways in the lungs, allowing them to open. The LABA medicine is called vilanterol
  • ICS – a corticosteroid that reduces the swelling in the lungs

The Side Effects of Breo Ellipta

It is important to understand the side effects of medications prior to using them. Breo Ellipta has some side effects that range from minor to very serious. Any side effects should be monitored and reported to the patient’s doctor.

Common side effects may include: 

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Thrush
  • Influenza
  • High blood pressure
  • Fever

There is also a risk of serious side effects occurring while taking Breo Ellipta to treat COPD. All side effects should be reported to the healthcare provider. These include the following:

  • Fungal infection in mouth or throat
  • Weakened immune system
  • Reduced adrenal function
  • Sudden breathing problems after inhaling medication
  • Heart issues such as fast or irregular heartbeat or chest pain
  • Effects on the nervous system like tremor and nervousness
  • Eye problems such as glaucoma or cataracts
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood sugar
  • Low blood potassium

As with any medications, the patient and health care provider should discuss risks and benefits with medications while working on a treatment plan.

What is Symbicort?

Symbicort is a twice-daily inhaled medication used to treat COPD and asthma. It does not replace a rescue inhaler for sudden symptoms. It is used to help improve breathing while helping to reduce flare-ups.

Symbicort was FDA approved for COPD treatment in 2006. It combines medications together to work to lower the daily symptoms of COPD. These medications are:

  • ICS – a corticosteroid that reduces the swelling in the lungs
  • LABA – a bronchodilator that relaxes the muscles around the airways in the lungs allowing them to open. The LABA medicine is formoterol

Symbicort is administered in an inhaler. The recommended dosage is two puffs twice a day every day, and patients should never exceed four puffs in a day. The inhaler has a counter on the top to monitor how much medication remains.

The Side Effects of Symbicort

As with all medications, Symbicort can have side effects. These side effects can range from a minor nuisance to severe health problems. Your doctor must be aware of all other medications you are taking as there is always a risk of interactions.

Side effects of Symbicort can include:

  • Throat Irritation
  • Thrush in mouth and throat
  • Inflammation of the sinuses and lungs
  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Pneumonia
  • Adrenal insufficiency
  • Eye problems such as glaucoma
  • Decrease in blood potassium levels
  • Swelling of blood vessels
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)

People who experience any serious side effects should report them to their health care provider and seek medical assistance for any severe side effects. Medications work differently for different people, and if side effects are too severe or uncomfortable, it may be necessary to switch prescriptions.

Breo Ellipta Vs. Symbicort: Which Medication Works Best To Treat COPD?

Though both of these medicines have been used successfully to treat COPD symptoms as well as provide long-term relief. A patient’s health care provider must weigh the pros and cons for each individual patient based on their personal medical history.

What are the Pros and Cons of Using Breo?

The pros of using Breo for COPD symptoms are:

  • The medicine is only taken once a day
  • LABA and ICS in one inhaler

The cons of using Breo for managing COPD symptoms:

  • Can have unpleasant side effects
  • No generic form exists
  • More challenging inhaler technique

What are the Pros and Cons of Symbicort?

The pros of Symbicort are:

  • It is an orally inhaled, portable medication
  • LABA and ICS in one inhaler

The cons of Symbicort:

  • Can have unpleasant or severe side effects
  • Requires two inhalations twice daily
  • No generic form is available

Ultimately, it is up to the health care provider and the patient’s medical history to determine which medication is appropriate for treatment.

Breo Ellipta and Symbicort use two different LABA medications. Breo Ellipta uses the LABA vilanterol and Symbicort uses the LABA formoterol.  Both of these medications have shown to be effective in order to allow the patient to breathe easier. Both medications have side effects that are very similar when used as part of a treatment plan for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

The Rx Advocates: Save Money on Your COPD Prescriptions

If your doctor prefers to use either Breo Ellipta or Symbicort, The Rx Advocates can help. As there are no generics available for either of these medications, the cost could be a challenge for many people.

We specialize in helping to make our patients’ monthly prescription medications more affordable for them. We work with patient discount programs to help our patients receive discounts on medications. Patients pay for our services, and medications are delivered at no additional cost.

We have helped many people save money on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease medications such as Symbicort and Breo Ellipta every month. If covering the costs of monthly medications is a concern for you, please reach out and contact us. We would be happy to see how we can help you.

Breo. Important Safety Information. 2021.

Symbicort. 2021.

My Symbicort. Symbicort Could Help You Breathe Better. 2021.

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