What is an Inhaler?
Also known as puffer, inhaler is a device which is used to deliver medications, such as steroids or bronchodilators via inhalation, to patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.(1) A nebulizer attachment is used for patients who are younger in age or those who have aging issues or disabilities to administer the inhaled medication in the form of mist for a slightly extended period of time.
The Benefits of Inhaler
Inhalers are a real boon for people suffering from allergies and medical conditions, such as asthma, which is a respiratory disease characterized by acute inflammation in the lungs. Asthma is a common condition that affects adults and children. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), there are about more than 25 million individuals living in America who are suffering from asthma, out of which around 20 million of them are adults.(2)
Asthma doesn’t have a cure;(2) however, for patients having this condition, inhaler is a true blessing and it gives tremendous relief from symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath according to the U.K. National Health Service. (NHS)(3) Inhalers help a lot in managing and relieving the asthma symptoms and also help in preventing fatal complications. All this makes inhalers an important source of breathing assistance and are not only a necessity, but also an important accessory for asthmatics to be used daily or when needed.
Types of Inhalers
There are different types of inhalers. There are some who have to use long-term asthma management inhalers for preventing acute asthma attacks. On the other hand, there are some inhalers which are to be used for temporary relief when having an asthma attack. While inhalers are vital for asthmatics, they should be used as per doctor’s instructions. Excessive use of inhalers can cause serious consequences.
What Happens If You Use An Inhaler Too Much?
A study published in 2015 in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, showed that overuse of albuterol is commonly seen in asthmatics with extremely mismanaged symptoms or when having frequent asthma attacks. Studies have shown that albuterol dependence was seen more prevalent in elderly men who had co-morbidities or were smokers.
This same study also showed that overuse of inhaler can cause serious side effects to a person’s health. Dependency on inhaler doubly increases the risk of asthma attacks and also increases the risk of emergency hospitalization. Some of the common side effects of inhaler overuse are rapid heartbeat, coughing, headaches, trembling, shortness of breath and additionally muscles can also be affected and cause tiredness.(4)
If the symptoms of asthma are worsening, then it is advised not inhale more than a single puff. Consult your doctor regarding your symptoms not improving and get a treatment plan which is less risky for managing the symptoms of asthma.
Is Addiction To Inhalers Possible?
Albuterol is the most commonly used medication in inhalers for temporary-relief from the symptoms of asthma. Patients using albuterol may have this question on their mind whether it is possible to get addicted to this medication and inhalers in general. The good news is that there is no risk of developing addiction to albuterol itself; however, one can become dependent on inhalers and the medicine used.(6, 7)
Addiction is different than dependence. Addiction is when a person vigorously searches for any means to get their hands on something which they want, in this case inhaler.(8) Addiction is like an impulse which the person is not able to control and will do anything to get their hands on it. Addicts do not care about societal or health consequences and seek out what they are addicted to.
Whereas, dependence is something where there is an impulse to get something, but it is not uncontrollable. This can be physical as well as psychological. The person can feel physical symptoms of withdrawal after foregoing a certain drug.(9)
While it has been established that addiction to albuterol inhaler is not going to happen; however, dependence on it is possible where you can catch yourself reaching out for the inhaler just on an impulse or out of habit even when you actually do not need it. This often occurs when the medications for asthma do not give instant relief and the patient is facing difficulty with painful symptoms. Excessive use of albuterol inhaler increases the risk of overdose.
How to Use Your Inhaler Safely?
When used cautiously and as advised by the doctor, inhalers are very safe. Commonly about 1 to 2 puffs used every 4 to 6 hours gives sufficient reduction in the symptoms with the use of prescribed bronchodilator.
Overuse of inhaler or using inhaler more than required, whether it is using it more frequently or using more than 2 puffs or more every 6 hours can cause side effects, such as nervousness, irregular or rapid heartbeat, increase blood pressure, vomiting and shakiness. If the inhaler is used to deliver a combination steroids or bronchodilators, then it is important to thoroughly rinse your mouth after using it, to avoid oral thrush.
Inhalers are an effective and safe method to administer medications like steroids and bronchodilators into the respiratory system to relieve symptoms of asthma and other such conditions. Inhalers when used in the proper manner deliver consistent and calculated dosage of the prescribed medication. If there are any doubts of how to use inhaler and you are not sure as to the correct manner of using the inhaler, then talk to your doctor or any other medical professional regarding the correct use of inhaler.