What’s corny about asthma inhalers?
The propellant in modern HFA puffer-style inhalers almost always contains ethanol from corn.
There are several steroid or combination steroid-and-topical-anti inflammatory diskus inhalers that don’t use a propellant at all, but rather contain dry powder that you use the power of your inhaled breath to pull into yoyur lungs. Some preventative diskus inhalers are: Advair Diskus, Asmanex, and Flovent Diskus.
Note that so far all diskus inhalers contain lactose, so the severely dairy allergic are out of luck here.
However steroid inhalers are only useful for preventing an asthma attack.. they won’t treat one that is already happening.
What do I do if I’m already having an attack?
Your best bet would be the Ventolin brand HFA inhaler. It contains contains albuterol sulfate, but the propellant is not corn ethanol, it’s tetrafluoroethane (HFA 134a). The Xopenex HFA inhaler also uses this propellant but contains other exipients such as oleic acid and dehydrated alcohol which is most likely from corn. Ventolin has no other ingredients. I use the Ventolin HFA and sometimes I react to it just a little, so I don’t think it’s entirely corn free, but so far the benefit has outweighed the negative outcomes. Other inhalers including the popular ProAir HFA made my throat close.
Update March 2016: I’ve just discovered that ProAir is now making a non propellant albuterol inhaler that works like the steroid inhalers mentioned above. The only ingredients are the albuterol and lactose: ProAir Respiclick
If you can’t tolerate that, your best option is to get a nebulizer, which is a device that does the propelling for you. Then you just put the powdered drug which can be compounded corn free into the chamber and get the medication delivered. (Some nebulizer powders may be corn free off-the-shelf, check inactive ingredients.) There are pocket nebulizers for carrying with you however they are still somewhat bulky.