A Secret Weapon to Fight Asthma
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Most physicians and patients would like to do everything within their power to control asthma symptoms. What if we told you that there is a secret weapon to make all your asthma medication actually work better? What if we told you that it would actually make the medication safer? What if we told you this weapon had no side effects? Our guess is you would say “let’s give it a try!”
Most asthma specialists recommend “spacers,” or holding chambers, for most of their patients that use metered-dose inhalers (MDIs). Many people assume spacers are only for children but they are also important for adults with asthma as well. These devices help make medications delivered by MDI more effective if used properly. The first step to understanding why is to really take a moment and consider how hard it is to actually use probably the oldest and most widely prescribed device for administering asthma medication.
To properly use an MDI patients need to coordinate at least 5 different steps (breathe out, push the button, breathe in, hold your breath, exhale) in addition to the routine of checking to see if the medication has not run out and shaking it up.
This is a lot of work and a spacer can make it a great deal easier by essentially holding the medication in place so you can coordinate breathing it into your lungs. Without spacers, unfortunately, a great deal of medication ends up in your oropharynx (back of your throat) where it is unable to help your asthma.
Here are some important facts to consider about using spacers:
- Most MDIs deliver small particles of medication at up to 30 meters/second (approximately 60 miles per hour). The coordination to catch droplets of your asthma spray that are essentially moving faster than cars on most highways is difficult to imagine.
- Spacers are forgiving for poor technique. For patients who may not be able to follow directions or those in any form of respiratory distress, spacers allow them that extra time to breathe in the medication. For the elderly they are particularly helpful.
- Spacers are known to decrease one of the most common side effects of inhaled steroids, oral thrush. They do this by making sure most of the medication bypasses your mouth and throat and ends up in the lungs where it can be most effective.
Ask your asthma care specialist to provide you with an age-appropriate spacer or valved holding chamber at your next visit if you are not currently using one or you need a new or updated version. You should also feel free to make an appointment to discuss your inhaler and or delivery device at any time.