One of the hardest parts of maintaining asthma control is making sure you are getting the right does of medicine through your inhaler. Have you heard of asthma inhaler dose counters? If not, this post could just make a positive impact on your asthma control.
Just Because You Feel or Hear It Spray…
It would be logical to assume that as long as your inhaler makes a sound when you pump it or you feel the spray enter your mouth that you’re still getting medicine, right? Unfortunately, this is just not true.
Today’s HFA inhalers contain chemicals called propellants that help to project the vaporized medicine into your airway when you pump the canister. But those propellants keep working long after the canister is empty or nearly empty of actual medicine. And that means you’re not getting as much (or any) medicine as you think you are.
With the old CFC type of inhalers (those sold prior to 2008), you could get a rough estimate of remaining medicine by floating the canister in a bowl of water. But that doesn’t work with the HFA inhalers we are all using these days.
It’s bad enough when you’re not getting enough of your daily/twice daily controller medicine, but if you get caught short with your rescue inhaler, it could be life-threatening. You need to know that you can get relief from your rescue inhaler when you’re having an asthma attack
So… What to Do?
Luckily, if you’re faithful about taking your controller medicine exactly as the doctor has prescribed it (usually 1 to 2 puffs, once or twice a day, depending on your level of asthma and history of control), a simple math calculation and a calendar can be used to keep track of when you’ll need to get that refill.
Check the canister of your particular controller medicine to see how many puffs (inhalations) it contains. Then divide that number by the number of puffs per day you are supposed to take. That gives you the number of days the inhaler is good for.
Next, look at a calendar and count off the days, until you get the last date the inhaler will be good for. Either mark it on the calendar in big red letters or write the date in marker right on the canister.
If you happen to use a DPI (dry powder inhaler) such as Advair, then you’re also lucky enough to have a built-in dose counter. When you get low, the number is in red, to alert you that it’s time to look into getting a refill.
It’s Not So Easy for the Rescue Inhaler
But rescue inhalers are seldom used on a regular basis. (If they are, then your asthma is NOT under control, and you need to talk with your physician about revamping your Asthma Action Plan!) You might use your inhaler for a couple of days in a row and then not again for a week or two. So, it’s hard to keep track of how many doses you’ve actually got left at any given point in time.
3 Possible Solutions for Tracking Doses
1. Fortunately, some inhalers now come with built-in dose counters. I recently got Ventolin, which is one of the brands that has a counter and I love it! I never have to worry now that my exercise-induced asthma will kick in (I work out every day, sometimes multiple times, as I am a fitness instructor!) and I won’t be able to get quick relief. I know exactly how much medicine I have left.
It is likely that other brands of rescue inhalers may offer built-in counters as well, so check with your pharmacist about availability, if you think this would be useful.
2. You can also buy an add-on device called the Puffminder. It fits over the top of your canister and records each puff digitally. It will even give you a low-dose warning beep each time you use it and have less than 20 puffs in your canister.
At this writing, looks like it costs about $40 to $45 and comes with a one-year warranty. I’m not recommending it either way as I have never used it; just letting my readers know it’s an option. Learn more with the Puffminder brochure.
3. Another tool I tried using for a while, before I had a prescription for Ventolin, was a smartphone app that enabled me to log each puff. It’s a manual process and is only as good as your commitment to keeping the records. You could do the same thing by marking an “X” on a calendar, I suppose.
I wasn’t good about remembering to record when I used my inhaler, so it didn’t work for me, but it might for you! The free app I tried was called Inhaler Tracker for the iPhone. There were a couple of other choices too.
It is of vital importance that you are certain your inhaler still contains a full dose of medicine each time you use it. The only way to know that for sure (since you can’t see inside a metal canister) is to use some sort of tracking device, whether it is built in, added on or simply a manual process.
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.