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Asthma sufferers must switch to eco-friendly inhalers
The Press-Enterprise


January 06, 2009

Beginning this month, asthma sufferers will have to switch to new, environmentally friendly inhalers to control their attacks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned production of the old inhalers because they contain chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which scientists say deplete the ozone. They are being replaced by hydrofluoroalkane inhalers, which doctors say give patients the same amount of medicine without harming the environment.

Thousands of asthma sufferers who already have switched to the new inhalers have two complaints: the new inhalers cost more money and don't provide as much medicine, doctors say.

Doctors and asthma experts agree that new inhalers may cost some patients significantly more money. But they say the new units work as well as the old inhalers.

"The new inhalers do have a weaker spray and feel," said Francene Lifson, executive director at the California chapter of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. "The CFC inhalers have a more powerful force."

Despite the inhalers' delivery differences, patients still get the same amount of medicine, she said.

The new inhalers contain stickier medicine, which requires them to be cleaned more often than the old inhalers, Lifson said.

Her organization, which is a patient advocacy group, may conduct an educational program to help patients better adjust to the new inhalers, she said. It also is trying to get some new inhalers, which would be distributed to asthma sufferers who can't afford them.

Dr. Webster Wong, chairman of the pediatrics department at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, said in some cases the new inhalers can cost as much as $55, which is significantly more than the $5 cost of the old inhalers.

"Patients might see their co-pay going through the roof," he said.

Wong suggested patients ask their doctors for free inhaler samples or contact drug companies to get new inhalers at reduced costs. Inhaler prices will drop when generic forms become available, he said.

Meanwhile, patients may want to consider carrying nebulizers, which are as effective as inhalers, but not as easily transportable or convenient, Wong said. Nebulizers are machines that release liquid mists of medication through a face mask that patients wear.

Dr. Lee Klevens, pharmacy director at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley, Calif., said hospital pharmacists teach asthma patients about the new inhalers. He said he thinks the new inhalers are safer because the dosages are better measured. There's less of a chance that asthma patients will overdose when using them, Klevens said.

"Patients will only benefit from the better product," he said, adding that some people probably will have difficulty adjusting to the new inhalers. They may want to give themselves more medicine than they need, Klevens said.

"There is an education process that has to go on," he said. "More medicine is not necessarily better."

(E-mail Lora Hines at lhines(at)










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