Are Metered-Dose Asthma Inhalers Safe?

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Parents

I heard that metered-dose asthma inhalers are no longer safe because of environmental concerns. Is that true? If so, does my child need a new inhaler?
Emily

Yes, that's true. It's now illegal for companies to make or sell CFC metered-dose inhalers. That's because these inhalers contain chlorofluorocarbons (or CFCs), chemicals found in aerosol hairspray or aerosol air fresheners that contribute to a breakdown of the earth's ozone layer.

CFCs are propellants that push or "propel" a liquid out into the air. In the case of asthma inhalers, a pre-measured dose of the medication albuterol is dispensed for kids experiencing severe asthma symptoms to breathe into their lungs.

New inhalers will also contain propellants — called hydrofluoroalkanes (or HFAs) — that work the same way as CFCs but have none of the environmentally harmful effects. Just like CFC inhalers, these inhalers are used as "rescue medication" by releasing a dose of albuterol or a similar drug to open up airways and relieve asthma symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or labored breathing.

Before you talk to your doctor about getting a new inhaler, check to see if your child is already using an HFA inhaler. An HFA inhaler may be labeled "HFA" or "no CFCs." It also may note "CFC" in a circle with a slash through it. If you can't tell whether your child has a new inhaler, talk to your doctor as soon as possible because your child will need a prescription for a new HFA inhaler. You can't just take the old inhaler to the pharmacy for an exchange or a refill. So plan ahead and call the doctor's office now.

HFA inhalers are more expensive than CFC inhalers and range in price from $30 to $60, as opposed to under $25. At this time, there are no less expensive generic equivalents. If you need assistance paying for an HFA inhaler, talk to your doctor or insurance provider or contact the drug company to see if it offers a patient assistance program.

Once your child starts using the new inhaler, it may feel different from the old one. But rest assured, your child is getting exactly the same amount of medicine — and relief — from symptoms as before. Because the new HFA inhalers are a little different, you and your child will need to learn exactly how to use, clean, dry and prime it. Read the instructions that come with the new inhaler, and talk to your doctor if you have any lingering questions.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: December 2008

Have a question? Email us.

Although we can't reply personally, you may see your question posted to this page in the future. If you're looking for medical advice, a diagnosis, or treatment, consult your doctor or other qualified medical professional. If this is an emergency, contact emergency services in your area.



Related Resources

OrganizationAmerican Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.
OrganizationAllergy and Asthma Network/Mothers of Asthmatics (AAN-MA) Through education, advocacy, community outreach, and research, AAN-MA hopes to eliminate suffering and fatalities due to asthma and allergies. AAN-MA offers news, drug recall information, tips, and more for treating allergies and asthma. Call: (800) 878-4403
Web SiteAAAAI Just for Kids This Just for Kids page from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology offers lots of fun activities to help you learn about managing your allergies and asthma.


Related Articles

Definition: Inhaler Inhalers are portable handheld devices that deliver medication - in a form that the person breathes in - directly to the lungs, unlike a pill or liquid that's swallowed.
Inhaler or Nebulizer: Which One Should My Child Use? Nebulizers and inhalers deliver asthma medicine to the lungs, and they work equally well when the correct technique is used.
What's the Difference Between a Nebulizer and an Inhaler? Inhalers and nebulizers are two different devices used to get rescue or controller asthma medications directly into the lungs. Find out how they work.




Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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