Incorrect use of asthma inhaler could waste medication

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

Rice University electrical engineers and a Baylor College of Medicine doctor conducted a small study that reveals something huge for asthma and COPD patients.

With 23 participants, they discovered every single one of them is using an inhaler wrong. They say that means you probably are, too.

There's an estimated 17.7 million Americans struggling with asthma, according to the director of the Ben Taub Asthma Clinic, Dr. Nick Hanania.

“The whole maneuver is very short, it's very hard to actually quantify by looking with the eye what the patient is doing,” Hanania said.

That’s why Rice University electrical engineering PhD student, Rajoshi Biswais, made a mechanical mouth, throat and lungs to better address the problem.

“You can program it at different flow rates so it can completely mimic how patients actually breathe while using the inhaler,” Biswais said.

She and her professor found that the timing of pressing the inhaler versus when and how long patients breathe got anywhere from 6-50 percent of medication to the airways.

“They are all adults, they've been using inhalers for quite a while but they all made at least one mistake,” said Ashutosh Sabharwal, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University

They said the biggest mistake is the timing when patients press.

“If you're even half of a second early in pressing the inhaler from when you start breathing, you lose half of the medicine,” Biswais said. “The timing is really critical. We want to be able to breathe in first and then press the inhaler.”

This is why they recommend patients take their inhaler with them every time they see a doctor. The hope is that a doctor can make sure a patient’s technique is consistently allowing the most medication possible to get to the lungs.

“They should start breathing in and then puff and then complete the deep breath in and hold it, which is important,” Hanania said.

They said nobody expects to get 100 percent of the medication, there’s no way that some does not stick to your mouth and throat. This is also why it’s critical to rinse your mouth afterward because the medicine that gets left behind can cause infections.

 

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