JUN 16, 2022 8:39 AM PDT

Overuse of Asthma Inhalers Leads to More Severe Asthma and Hospitalization

WRITTEN BY: Zoe Michaud

Asthma is a chronic lung condition characterized by inflammation and narrowness in the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. About 1 in 13 people in the United States are affected by asthma. Though there is no cure for asthma, it is typically managed by avoiding triggers and using medications.

Asthma inhalers (inhaled corticosteroids) are the most effective and commonly used medication to control asthma. They work by reducing swelling and tightening in the airways. Though these medications are necessary and lifesaving for many asthma patients, overuse of asthma inhalers can have negative effects.

Short-Acting Beta-Agonists (SABAs) are a common type of inhaler, often referred to as Albuterol inhalers. Relying on SABA for relief instead of using corticosteroids to prevent symptoms is linked to poor asthma control and an increased risk of severe asthma attacks and hospital admissions.

Researchers at the Queen Mary University of London recently published a study showing that more than a quarter of asthma patients in their cohort of over 700,000 asthma patients were over-using inhalers. Overuse was defined as six or more inhaler prescriptions per year.

Paul Pfeffer, one of the co-authors on the paper, noted that "there is an ongoing major burden of inappropriate and dangerous rescue inhaler overuse in asthma, and our paper highlights the complexity of the problem with multiple reasons patients are over-prescribed SABA inhalers. The findings are a call for more detailed research into interventions to reduce inappropriate SABA overuse in different patient groups."

Overall, the paper highlights the need for standardization in prescriptions of these life-saving medications. There was a high level of variability between prescribers that were looked at in this study, with some overprescribing to 6% of their asthma patients and some overprescribing to as many as 60%.

Lead author Anna De Simoni added that “working with patients to improve regular use of preventative inhalers should be central to reducing asthma-related hospital admissions. There is still significant room for improvement.”

Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Mayo Clinic, Journal of Clinical Medicine, British Journal of General Practice

About the Author
Biology
Zoe (she/her) is a science writer and a scientist working in genomics. She received her B.S. from the University of Connecticut with a focus in Evolutionary Biology. At Labroots, she focuses on writing scientific content related to clinical research and diagnostics.
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