Changes coming for inhaler users

November 26, 2008 10:04:16 AM PST
Big changes are in store for millions of people who use asthma inhalers. At the end of the year, they are changing for the better and for a greener earth. The old inhalers contained medication that was propelled by a gas that broke down the earth's protective ozone layer. As of the first of the new year, all these drugs that help asthmatics breathe easier will contain a safer gas propellant.

In his job as a optical physicist, Michael Metz might concern himself with how air affects a beam of light. But it was how air affects the body that concerned him when he couldn't get enough of it. Dr. Metz has asthma.

"There are some days when I feel it's harder to take breaths, to get the right amount of air," he said.

And to get the right amount, Dr. Metz has to use inhaled asthma drugs. But now, there is a new recipe for asthma drugs. The new inhalers contain HFA, a propellant gas that doesn't harm the earth's ozone layer. Older inhalers had fluocarbon gas to propel the medication, which did damage ozone. Patients may notice a softer puff from the new inhalers.

"With the old things, you would feel a blast of air in the throat," said Dr. David Rosenstreich, of Montefiore Medical Center. "With these, it comes out more gently. Patients may feel they are not getting the medication, but they do."

"It's not really obvious that something is happening," Dr. Metz said. "I just take a breath, but I don't really feel it.

The new gadgets will replace the old ones completely on January 1.

How effective are the inhalers? A Proventil inhaler has been around for about a year now, and has proven to be just as effective as the old inhalers.

The one difference - you have to prime the new ones.

"You're going to shake it and then spray it three times in the air," Dr. Rosenstreich said. "And then it's ready to use."

And you have to rinse the plastic holder out once a week, because the new mist is more sticky.

"For most patients, they won't experience a difference," Dr. Rosenstreich said. "Just use them the way they used the old inhalers."

The downside is cost. Some of the older inhalers were available as generics for $3 to $4 each. Because the new inhalers are under patent as new drugs, the cost will be between $40 and $60 each.

For more information, visit FDA.gov/cder/mdi/albuterol.htm.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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