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Getting the right Dose from an Asthma Inhaler

Is your child properly using his or her asthma inhaler?

According to The Washington Post, a recent study revealed that nearly a third of caregivers in areas surveyed improperly used albuterol, an asthma medication. Albuterol helps relieve constricted airways in children and adults who suffer from asthma.

Results of the study appeared in the June 2009 Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The 114 caregivers surveyed by telephone were located in low-income urban areas. The 32 percent who were improperly using albuterol were judged to be giving too much or too little of the drug.

Stephen J. Teach, MD, heads the asthma education program at Children’s National Medical Center in the nation’s capital. According to The Post, he indicated that many caregivers and children old enough to administer their own medication frequently neglect to use a spacer or holding chamber. These devices cost little and can help control the flow of asthma medication. This increases the chance that the drug will reach the lungs instead of the back of the patient’s throat, where it has no helpful effect.

Teach also said that many patients who use multiple asthma medications commonly make a mistake. They or their caregivers use one drug when another is the appropriate one for daily or emergency treatment.

The Post reports that in January 2009, HFA inhalers replaced aerosol asthma inhalers. The newer devices are considered environmentally friendlier. While they work slightly differently from the old inhalers, patients treated at Children’s have demonstrated no problems getting the right dose when utilizing a spacer.

If you suspect your child is misusing his inhaler as far as the amount of medication delivered, one alternative is to ask your pediatrician to prescribe a device that comes with a counter. This also prevents running out of medication – a common problem when patients or caregivers just shake a canister to see if it feels empty.

Teach also suggested that caregivers should carefully follow instructions regarding cleaning and priming inhalers. This helps assure that your child’s device won’t become clogged.

The Children’s asthma education program offers guidelines to help parents and other caregivers control a child’s asthma. They include:

1. Visit the child’s primary care provider regularly. An evaluation every three months is essential.

2. Follow the primary care provider’s medication instructions. Physicians often prescribe two types of medication, one for daily treatment to keep the child healthy as well as a second, quick-relief or rescue medication for attacks. Make sure your child takes any prescribed medications correctly.

3. Know your child’s triggers. They vary greatly among the nearly 9 million kids in the U.S. who suffer from asthma. Common triggers include cigarette smoke, mold and mildew, animal fur, strong smells and sprays and dust in beds and pillows. Some people are sensitive to dust kicked up while sweeping, certain foods and even cockroaches. Other triggers include weather changes and physical events such as colds, exercise or stress.

4. Recognize an attack. You and the child need to be able to spot the first signs of an asthma attack in order to act quickly and use a rescue medication. Be on the alert for a low number on a peak flow meter or symptoms such as coughing, wheezing or a tight chest. A feeling of lethargy, lying around and even experiencing dizziness or a headache are symptoms. Caregivers should discuss with the primary care physician which symptoms are danger signals and always require emergency help. One of the most important is failure of the emergency medication to work. Another is any sign of lack of oxygen, such as nails turning gray or blue.