- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Inhalers for Asthma Relief
The Magic of Inhalers
The right inhaler can transform the life of an asthmatic - but used with poor technique, it will be useless. Understand your inhaler and improve your quality of life.
With a well-prescribed preventative inhaler, even severe asthmatics need never have an attack again! And if you have mild asthma, an emergency inhaler (like Ventolin) can stop the occasional wheeze in its tracks, so you'll never have to worry about disturbed sleep or miss out on activities.
The great thing is that these benefits come with very few, if any, downsides. Most emergency inhalers (called "relievers", or "bronchodilators" because they relax the airways) are so safe, it's actually impossible to overdose! Preventative inhalers do have some side effects, but the dose is so tiny, they are much less serious than most other medications.
Some asthmatics are reluctant to use their inhalers because they don't like the idea of taking drugs. It's important to understand that every time you wheeze, damage is being done to your airways.
Isn't it better to take a minuscule dose of medication in an inhaler, than risk that damage?
Preventative inhalers have to be taken daily - usually two or three times a day. The protection builds up over time, so if you don't take it religiously every day, you may as well throw it away - occasional use has no effect whatsoever, so you're wasting your money!
The payoff for being conscientious is that, with the right dose, you'll feel as if you don't have asthma at all. No wheezing, no coughing, no shortness of breath when you exercise. Every day, all the time. Isn't that worth making an effort for?
Preventive inhalers usually contain some kind of steroid. In large doses, they can cause osteoporosis, so even with the tiny amount in inhalers, it's best to play it safe and get the dosage just right. Newer inhalers like Seretide or Advair use a combination of preventative and bronchodilator to help get the balance right.
Your Asthma Treatment Plan
If your doctor or specialist knows their stuff, they won't just give you a prescription for a preventative inhaler, they'll also give you an Asthma Treatment Plan.
We talk about asthma "attacks" because they seem to hit with little or no warning. In reality, the asthma has often been lurking in the background, building up gradually, until something tips it over the edge.
A Treatment Plan enables you to identify that early build-up. if you take a little extra preventer at that point, you can stop an attack before it has a chance to get started.
And if you miss the signs and have a full-blown attack, the Treatment Plan gives you benchmarks so you can judge how severe it is, and tells you what to do to get your asthma back under control.
To follow the Plan, you must be able to identify when your breathing is normal and when it’s not. That's why a Peak Flow Meter is an essential weapon in your war against asthma!
Peak Flow Meters
I like this peak flow meter because it connects to my PC and allows me to keep track of my readings - very useful to take to your doctor.
Benefits of a Peak Flow Meter
By using your Peak Flow Meter every day and recording the readings, you can learn what your normal breathing pattern is. Then you’ll know instantly, the moment your breathing starts to deteriorate.
If your doctor hasn’t given you a treatment plan, here’s how to build one yourself. You’ll need a Peak Flow Meter and a notebook to record your daily readings
Use the Peak Flow Meter every morning when you get up, and again when you go to bed, and record the readings. After a week, check your readings - you should find the readings are fairly consistent. If they are, you now have a reading that you can regard as “normal”.
From now on, make your Peak Flow Meter part of your regular morning routine, like brushing your teeth. If your reading takes a sudden dip, take one extra puff of your preventer for a few days until your reading returns to normal. If it shows no sign of improving, don’t increase the dose again – see your physician first.
If your readings aren’t consistent, or if your morning reading is much worse than the evening one (or vice versa), it is vitally important to see your doctor.
Unpredictable readings mean your asthma is very “twitchy”, making you vulnerable to sudden, possibly dangerous, attacks. Readings that deteriorate overnight suggest you need a combined preventer / bronchodilator, or a long-acting night-time medication, to keep you on an even keel.
Emergency inhalers - bronchodilators - are inhalers you carry around and use when you have a wheeze. You can also take a puff or two before you start exercising, to prevent you having an attack. Common brand names are Ventolin and Proventil. For these inhalers, there is no such thing as an overdose limit, and the only known side effect is a tremor.
If there's no overdose limit, you may wonder why the packet sets a limit on the number of puffs you should take. It's not because the drug is dangerous - it's because if you have an asthma attack and it doesn't respond to two or three puffs, it's so bad that you may be in danger.
In theory, almost all asthma attacks can be relieved by just one puff of one of these inhalers. The problem is, it has to get deep into your lungs to do so - and it can't, if your asthma is bad. That's why you need to take two puffs - but there's no point in taking them in quick succession.
The first puff is meant to ease the congestion enough so the second puff can get deep into your lungs. Therefore it's very important to wait a minute or so for the first puff to work before taking the second one. If you're still feeling tight after another minute or so, you can take a third puff.
It's also vital to use the correct inhaler technique, which may not be as obvious as you think. Watch this video to make sure you're getting it exactly right:
If you've taken three puffs (with the correct technique as described above), and you still don't feel better - you're in BIG trouble. Take a fourth puff and get yourself straight to the doctor or hospital.
Danger Signs of Asthma
I know my advice sounds melodramatic. Perhaps you don't feel sick enough to do anything so drastic. But the fact is, lungs that don't respond to an inhaler are so badly congested that you're in grave danger, whether you feel it or not. You could suffocate to death.
Deaths from asthma are more common than you may think, and many of them occur because people keep on taking puffs on their inhaler and hoping it will work, rather than seeking help. Don't be a statistic!
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