For people with asthma, reaching for a rescue inhaler can almost become a reflex. Still, there can be too much of a good thing.
Recent findings by researchers in England found more than one-fourth of asthma patients are overusing their quick-acting inhalers — and that can lead to poor asthma control. Scientists at Queen Mary University in London analyzed more than 700,000 patient records from about 120 medical practices. They focused on asthma patients and the two most common types of inhalers: corticosteroid [kôrdəkōˈsteroid] inhalers that prevent symptoms from occurring, and short-acting beta-agonist [be-ta ag-ə-nəst] inhalers for quick symptom relief.
Relying on short-acting “rescue” inhalers has been linked to poor asthma control, increased risk of hospitalization and more severe asthma attacks. Among the asthma patients in the study, the researchers found that about one-fourth of them were being overprescribed fast-acting inhalers. The study defined overuse as six or more prescriptions a year.
Adding to the problem, about one-quarter of patients were underusing preventive inhalers. That, the researchers said, raises concerns about inadequate prevention of asthma attacks.
Encouraging people with asthma to use preventive inhalers is one way to reduce hospital admissions. Among patients who use a dozen fast-acting inhalers a year, the researchers said reducing that by up to two-thirds could result in 70% fewer hospital admissions.
Overprescribing of fast-acting inhalers also varied widely among doctors, with rates varying from 6% to 60%.
For asthma patients, a talk with your doctor about when to use which inhaler might help both of you breathe easier.