Medical experts have been unable to find a “cure” for asthma attacks. The best that can usually be hoped for is to control the severity of a particular attack or to try to minimize the frequency of attacks. As a result, those who suffer from asthma have long been relying on inhalers, or “puffers,” full of steroids and other drugs to help during an attack. Unfortunately, there are also side effects to using these drugs. And now a new study has found that many people with asthma could be taking their inhaled medicines incorrectly.
Researchers asked 100 adults hospitalized for asthma or a lung disease like emphysema to show how they used their inhalers at home. They discovered that most patients made some type of mistake — sometimes causing serious problems.
When the researchers watched the patients use their inhalers, one of the biggest problems was that patients failed to breathe out fully before placing the inhaler in the mouth.
Vision problems seemed to play a big part in many patients’ misuse. Nearly all patients with poor vision used the “Diskus” inhaler incorrectly, compared with slightly more than half of those with adequate vision.
How bad was the frequency of mistakes? According to the research team, overall, patients misused their metered-dose
inhalers an average of nine times out of 10, and Diskus inhalers seven out of 10 times. Both types of inhalers deliver medication directly to the airways. Diskus inhalers are used mainly for “controller” medications — the ones patients take regularly to keep asthma or other lung disease symptoms under control. Metered-dose inhalers can be used for controller or “rescue” medications, which patients take during severe episodes of breathlessness and for other symptoms.
The two types of inhalers work by different mechanisms, and require different steps to deliver the medication to the lungs. So for people who use both — which is quite common – the different methods of correct use can be particularly tricky.
If you use an inhaler, bring it to your doctor appointments and have your doctor demonstrate how to use the device at home. The key to remember is not to assume that inhalers should be easy to use and are all the same. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure of anything. And, don’t forget, your pharmacist can also be a valuable source of information regarding your inhaler or any other prescription.