There's More to Asthma Medication than Ventolin
Ventolin is a byword for asthma medication, but it's not the only aspect of treatment. In honour of World Asthma Day on the 3rd May, let's take a look at the different types of asthma inhalers and how you can ensure you're taking it correctly to maximise the benefits.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma affects around five and half million people in the UK. It's very common in children - half the 5.4 million asthmatics are under 11. It's a chronic long term illness with no cure, but treatment makes it extremely manageable.
Unfortunately, three people in the UK die each day from asthma, so it's important to make sure you're using your meds correctly.
The symptoms of asthma are:
- Tight chest
- Trouble breathing
Symptoms can be triggered by exercise, dust, pet allergies, hay fever or very cold and hot temperatures. It's because the airways are sensitive and, in people prone to asthma, they become inflamed.
What are the treatment options?
Inhalers are the most common form of asthma treatment. There are two types - preventers and relievers.
Preventers such as Clenil-Modulite are daily doses of medication that reduce sensitivity in the airways, and reduce the mucus production and swelling characteristic of asthma. They are designed to prevent asthma attacks, and should not be taken at the start of an attack. That job goes to Ventolin; a reliever inhaler designed to take at the start of or during an asthma attack.
Relievers are usually blue and preventers are usually brown or orange.
Inhalers deliver medicine directly into the lungs; this is where the medicine is needed making inhalers are very effective at controlling symptoms. A dose of any type of inhaler, whether that's Clenil-Modulite or Ventolin, is delivered quickly and efficiently straight into the lungs - but only if your technique is right.
The Correct Technique
Have you ever been coughing after taking your inhaler? This could mean you're not using this medication properly.
A survey carried out by Asthma UK found that up to a third of patients weren't using their inhalers correctly. This is a problem because potentially lifesaving medicine is simply wasted on the tongue, tonsils, and lips or breathed out before it has a chance to affect the airways. This can cause oral thrush and a sore throat.
Here are some ways to get that technique right:
- Get your asthma nurse to show you how; you may have been taking that inhaler for years, but that doesn't mean you're doing it correctly. Familiarity breeds contempt, it also breeds laziness.
- Each time you have a review, have your technique checked. Inhaler shapes change over time - and this might cause you to miss the mark.
- Bring a friend to your review who can help you remember.
- Use a mirror to make sure you've positioned the inhaler correctly.
- Keep a diary and record your symptoms after you take your inhaler. If you see improvements, well done. If not, get the technique checked again. It's time well spent because it could save your life.
The Different Inhalers
There are different types and they are used in slightly different ways.
- 'Press and breathe' metered dose inhalers (MDIs)
These are very common and are also known as 'puffers'. It's a small canister of medicine that mixes with a liquid or gas as you press the button down. You should breathe in as you press the button and hold your breath afterwards. Ensure the inhaler is thoroughly shaken before use.
- 'Breathe in normally' breath actuated MDIs
These are useful for people who struggle with an MDI puffer. Reasons for choosing this type of inhaler include hand difficulties such as arthritis and an inability to coordinate breathing and pressing the button. Your breath activates the medicine and you breathe in normally through the mouthpiece. They must be shaken before use.
- 'Breathe in hard' dry powder inhaler (DPIs)
These release medicine in a powder form when you breathe through the mouthpiece. They can be harder work as you need to breathe in quickly and sharply.
Spacers are large plastic attachments that fix onto the mouthpiece of your inhaler. Medicine collects in the spacer so you can breathe it in without the rush and breath-holding complications. They work well for younger children.
A nebuliser is usually used on small infants with asthma, the very ill or elderly. It's a machine that turns the medicine into a mist that can be breathed through a mask over the nose and mouth.
No-one's perfect! Check you aren't making these mistakes:
Not breathing out first
If your lungs are already full of air, you won't get much more in. Breathe all the way out before inhaling your medicines.
Not holding your breath afterwards
If you breathe out too quickly, the medicine is simply released into the atmosphere rather than working on your asthma attack. Hold your breath for ideally ten seconds.
Not Shaking it
Shake your inhaler to make sure the medicine is loose and mixed up. Gas and liquid 'propellers' must be properly mixed or they won't move the medicine into your lungs properly.
Inhaling too early or late
It takes inhalers half a second to release the medicine into your mouth. You need to breathe in at the same time as you press the button. If not, your lungs will be too full of plain air to take in the meds, or medicine will end up in your mouth where it's of no use.
Not waiting between doses
Wait 30- 60 seconds before taking a second dose. Spend that time shaking your inhaler to mix it up properly.
Not storing it correctly
Always keep the cap on your inhaler. It keeps it clean and free from potentially dangerous objects that you could inhale.
You should always store your inhaler at the right temperature too. Hot and cold temperatures can affect the viability of your medicine. Remember that cars get very hot and very cold, as do windowsills. Humid conditions such as a bathroom or holiday destination might cause the medicine to get damp and therefore unable to project out of the inhaler correctly.
Which is best for you?
Your asthma nurse or GP will be able to tell you which is best for your asthma, but if you have a preference make it known. Whatever your choice of inhaler, remember that your technique is all-important. It may seem tedious, but taking your asthma medicines correctly could save your life.