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Format: 04/19/2014
Format: 04/19/2014


WPXI-TV: Users Complain About New Asthma Inhalers

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

WPXI-TV, PITTSBURGH (Link to Story) -- A year ago the government ordered a big change in asthma inhalers.

The propellant used to force the medication out of the inhaler was changed to a more environmentally safe chemical.

The old albuterol inhalers used chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), but it’s believed the CFC damages the ozone.

As of the first of the year, CFC inhalers were banned and hydroflouroalkane (HFA) was used as a propellant instead.

While the HFA may be better for the environment, some patients and doctors say the inhalers may be dangerous for patients.

Katie Mitchell of Pittsburgh suffers from severe asthma.

She described what an asthma attack feels like. “My chest gets tight, feels like an elephant on my chest, then your airways constrict and you kind of gasp for air.”

Mitchell, a junior at Slippery Rock University, relies on an albuterol inhaler to control her symptoms. Like all asthma patients, her inhaler now contains the environmentally friendly propellant HFA.

She said the new inhaler put her in a life-and-death situation.

“I went to use it and nothing came out and I started panicking because I didn't know what to do. I was shaking it and I had to prime the inhaler six times before I could actually use it, which is dangerous for someone with asthma,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell isn’t the only asthma sufferer who has had problems with the new inhalers.

The FDA told Channel 11 it has gotten many similar complaints about the new inhalers.

Dr. David Skoner, an asthma and allergy specialist at Allegheny General Hospital, said he’s also had patients complain about the inhalers.

Skoner said, “These have a tendency to plug up the little holes where the drug comes out. That can cause a life hyphen threatening situation.”

The medication is stickier, so it can clog the hole it comes out of and can reduce the amount of medication delivered.

Many patients don’t realize they must now take the inhaler apart and clean it at least once a week, which they didn’t have to do with the old inhalers.

Mitchell now cleans her inhaler after every use to make sure it will work the next time she needs it.

“If you're having an asthma attack and you use your inhaler and it's clogged, you can't go over to the sink and wash it out,” Mitchell said.

Skoner said the drug manufacturers recommend taking the inhaler mouthpiece apart and running warm water through it for 30 seconds. Then flip it over and run warm water through the other end for another 30 seconds. Then shake it off and let it air dry overnight before putting it back together.

Clogging isn’t the only complaint the FDA is getting.

The old propellant pushed the medication out with a lot of force, but the new propellant sends the medication out in a gentle plume.

Because it feels and tastes different, many of Skoner’s patients don't think it's working.

“The taste and feel are very different. The CFC felt cold in the back of the throat. This one doesn’t. They knew what the old one felt like . When they use the new one, they don’t feel that, so they don’t feel they are getting the drug and may take more puffs of it,” Skoner said.

Skoner and the FDA said tests show the new propellant still delivers the right amount of medication.

Another drawback of the new inhalers is the cost. The new inhalers are two to three times the price of the old generic inhalers.

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