Time Draws Near for Asthma Patients to Switch Inhalers

December 29, 2008 12:29 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Beginning in '09, asthma patients will be forced to use more expensive eco-friendly inhalers; doctors suspect some people may try to avoid the change awhile longer.

New Year, New Asthma Inhalers

In just a few days some asthma patients will be forced to rely on a new inhaler.

Jan. 1 marks the official day that inhalers propelled by ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons will no longer be available. Inhalers powered by hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) will take their place.

Because the new inhalers are more expensive than the old ones, some worry that asthma patients may try to cut corners on their medication.

"It's possible people may skimp on their medicine because of the cost," Dr. Bradley A. Becker, co-director of the Asthma Center for Children at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "Clearly that would not be a good strategy because you might end up in the emergency room."

There's a chance patients may try hoarding old CFC inhalers while they still have a chance, the Post-Dispatch reported. Holding medication past its expiration date might not be a good idea, however. "Medicine could be degrading and not working the way it's supposed to," Dr. Matthew Hess told The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Background: Why the change?

CFC-propelled inhalers are on their way out of U.S. markets due to the provisions of the U.S. Clean Air Act and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, an international environmental treaty.

The CFCs in current inhalers help propel the medicine that relaxes airways during an asthma attack into the lungs, according to the Associated Press. However, CFCs are harmful to the environment, particularly the earth’s ozone layer.

As a result, U.S. health officials are mandating a change to inhalers powered by hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs), which won’t hurt the ozone.

This change has been coming for several years, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reminded patients a few months ago that CFC inhalers will be discontinued.
The organization asked asthma patients to speak to their physicians early about finding an alternative for their current inhalers. HFA inhalers will likely taste and feel different when used; they must also be primed and cleaned differently, so there will be a bit of a “learning curve.”
Despite the fact that the medication has some differences, the FDA said it wanted “to emphasize that HFA-propelled albuterol inhalers are safe and effective replacements for CFC-propelled albuterol inhalers."

According to HealthDay News, Dr. Badrul Chowdhury, director of the FDA’s Division of Pulmonary and Allergy Products, said approximately 65 percent of inhaler users were already using HFA-propelled products as of May 2008.

Reactions: Effectiveness of HFA inhalers

Reference: Asthma resources


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines