This Basic Mistake Is Causing Kids With Asthma To Be Hospitalized

Millions of kids in the U.S. have the breathing disorder — and a new study revealed dangerous gaffes with their inhaler technique.

by Lara DeSanto Health Writer

Asthma is a serious, potentially life-threatening disease that results in breathing difficulties, and it’s the most common chronic disease in kids, affecting 1 in 12, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Now a study shows that many kids with asthma aren’t using their inhalers correctly, putting them in serious danger.

The research, published in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, looked into inhaler technique in a group of children who were hospitalized for asthma and found that nearly half weren’t actually getting the full dose of their medication because of improper inhaler use. Teens were the worst offenders, often skipping the use of a spacer, which is a device used with an inhaler that helps the right amount of medication reach the lungs.

"We know that asthma can be well managed in the majority of patients, and using your inhaler correctly is a key factor to managing asthma," said study author Waheeda Samady, M.D., hospitalist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and assistant professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in a press release. "Improper inhaler technique can contribute to children having uncontrolled asthma and needing to come to the hospital for their asthma. Our study suggests that as health care providers, we can do a better job showing patients and families the correct inhaler and spacer technique, and checking it frequently to ensure they master it."

The study assessed the inhaler use of 113 kids, from age 2 to 16, and 14 percent missed at least one critical step in their technique, like priming the inhaler by shaking it and spraying the cannister several times before using it for the first time. Further, 18 percent didn’t even use the spacer device with their inhaler (most of them being teenagers).

That’s likely because teens may feel that using a spacer is only for younger kids, because they may view spacers as a “helper” that isn’t necessarily required — but teens should still use them to ensure they are getting the meds they need, say researchers. Even adults may use spacers — these devices can up the amount of medication a person gets into their lungs from 34% to 83%, according to past research.

"We see that our adolescent patients, who are transitioning to independent medication management, still need close monitoring to make sure they use their inhaler and spacer appropriately to achieve optimal asthma control," Dr. Samady said.

Lara DeSanto
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Lara DeSanto

Lara is a former digital editor for HealthCentral, covering Sexual Health, Digestive Health, Head and Neck Cancer, and Gynecologic Cancers. She continues to contribute to HealthCentral while she works towards her masters in marriage and family therapy and art therapy. In a past life, she worked as the patient education editor at the American College of OB-GYNs and as a news writer/editor at WTOP.com.