Bye-Bye CFC Inhalers, Hello HFA Inhalers for COPD
Tick...tick...tick...Do you hear it? That's the sound of the clock ticking down to December 31, 2008 - the day some of the inhaled breathing medicines you've grown to know and love will no longer be available. Now, before you get too worked up (and who wouldn't be?), let's find out what's going on and learn what you can do to keep on breathing easy.
What's this all about?
When you use an inhaled aerosol medication, you are breathing in not only the helpful medicine, but a propellant that assists that medicine in shooting out of the canister and getting into your lungs. Until quite recently the most common propellant used was in a category called Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's), which - unfortunately - play a parting in depleting the ozone layer in our atmosphere.
In 1987, the Montreal Protocol was signed as an international treaty to eliminate the production and consumption of ozone-depleting chemicals. To comply with this ruling scientists developed CFC-free inhalers, known as hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) inhalers. These HFA inhalers have become more and more available over the last few years and many people have been using them successfully to treat breathing problems.
Will this affect me?
If you currently use an Albuterol inhaler using a CFC propellant, yes, you will need to switch. Talk to your doctor soon about writing you a new prescription for a HFA inhaler. If you don't know if your inhaler is CFC or HFA, show it to your local pharmacist, and ask. Understand that your pharmacist can't simply substitute the new inhaler for your existing CFC inhaler prescription. Your doctor has to write the order for the new one.
The FDA has found that HFA inhalers are safe and effective, and you should not find any significant differences from your CFC inhaler. It is possible, however, that some people might find that the new inhalers have a slightly different taste or feel.
What Is Albuterol?
Albuterol is a commonly used inhaled medication that relaxes and opens airways within minutes to relieve shortness of breath and bronchial spasms due to asthma and COPD.
It's important to know that Albuterol is a rescue / reliever medicine, and ideally you shouldn't have to use it very often, if at all. If you are using your Albuterol inhaler more than a two times a week, talk to your doctor about taking inhaled medicines that work in your lungs on a maintenance basis, keeping them open consistently instead of having frequent episodes of spasms, swelling and sudden breathing problems. A few very good maintenance medicines are Advair, Symbicort, Pulmicort (corticosteroids), and Spiriva (anticholinergic), which are dry power inhalers, and not affected by this change.
Which inhaled Albuterol medicines will be okay to use?
Three FDA-approved HFA inhalers are: ProAir® HFA Inhalation Aerosol, Proventil® HFA Inhalation Aerosol, and Ventolin® HFA Inhalation Aerosol. Another HFA inhaler containing levalbuterol (a cousin to Albuterol) is available as Xopenex®. You should have only one of this type of inhaler. If you have more than one in this category, you're overdosing.
So, if you have one of these above inhalers, you'll all set. You don't need to switch. Your lungs - and the earth's atmosphere - will thank you!
Will I See a Price Difference?
There may be a significant price difference between the CFC inhalers and the new HFA inhalers, particularly if you currently use a generic CFC inhaler. The HFA inhalers cost from $30 to $60, compared with $5 to $25 for a generic CFC inhaler. The price difference is most likely to have an impact on patients without health insurance, and it is hoped that as more people move to the CFC-free delivery method, the price will come down.
If you have questions about the transition to HFA inhalers or to learn about assistance programs that may help you pay for your prescriptions, including a coupon offer, you can call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA, and press "2" to speak to a nurse or respiratory therapist.
The clock is ticking, and even if your lungs are well maintained, you don't want to be left out in the cold without your quick relief inhaler. Find out about the switch today!
Remember that this is not medical advice, but general information. As always, talk with your doctor. He or she knows you best.
Jane M. Martin is a respiratory therapist, author, and teacher, and the director of Breathing Better Living Well.com.