New inhalers give patients a hard time

July 7, 2008 7:02:09 PM PDT
For people who suffer from asthma, their inhalers are a life line. It's the first thing they reach for when they feel an attack coming on. Now they're having to adjust to changes to a device many have used their entire lives.

Ten-year-old Isaiah McDonald faces a danger every time he hits the school soccer field with his asthma.

"Like when Isaiah's playing soccer, doing his sports, he gets out of breath. So he needs his asthma pump," said Grace McDonald, Isaiah's mother.

Isaiah has always relied on an asthma inhaler to ward off attacks, but now, like millions of asthma patients across the country, he's being forced to switch and says he's struggling.

"The new one you got to take like 5 or 6 sprays, and the old one was like one or two," said Isaiah, an asthma sufferer.

The difference between the inhalers isn't the medicine inside, but what propels it.

The old models used chlorofluorocarbons, which have been banned as a threat to the Earth's ozone layer. They've been replaced by a propellant called HFC.

Dr. Andie Marmor M.D. runs the asthma clinic at San Francisco General Hospital.

"There were certainly several patients at the very beginning with the new inhalers that didn't feel worked as well. And when you further pursued that, they usually stated that it either tasted or felt different from what they used to," said Dr. Andie Marmo.

Some of that may have to do with the way the propellants behave. The HFC mist seems gentler than the old CFC inhalers. Manufacturers claim both systems deliver the same dosage.

"Based on the data, everything I've read, every study has shown that I've read says it's just as effective," said Dr. Marmo,

Dr. Marmo points out, most of the patients have adjusted after a few months.

However, for Isaiah's family, adapting has been a painful process.

"I honestly feel they shouldn't change it, unless they have asthma, unless they're actually using that asthma pump, they shouldn't be able to change it," said Grace McDonald.

Whatever they're preference, some asthma patients are discovering they need to make the switch now, as the old style inhalers are already disappearing from pharmacy shelves. By the first of the year, they're scheduled to be gone altogether.

At $40 to $50 a piece, the new inhalers are also more expensive than the older generic models, which averaged $10 to $15 dollars.


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