Quick Fix Isn't Best for Asthma

Asthma patients are overusing short acting medications

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Uncontrolled asthma is a huge problem, despite the availability of effective treatments. Some patients may be using "quick fixes" to treat asthma instead of more long-term solutions.

A recent small study discovered that frequent users of "quick fix" short-acting bronchodilators knew they had poor control of their asthma but used the short-acting option because it was a fast, effective and cheap method to get them back to their busy lives. 

"Discuss long-term treatment options for asthma with your doctor"

Short-acting bronchodilators work within 20 minutes to open airways and restore airflow to the lungs. Long-term anti-inflammatory medications, on the other hand, may take longer to start working but can provide 12 hours of open airways and prevent asthma attacks.

The overuse of short-acting bronchodilators is recognized internationally as a sign of poor asthma control. Overuse of these devices also may increase risk of emergency room visits and hospital stays. 

Sue Cole, of Elizabeth Courtauld Surgery, Halstead, United Kingdom, and colleagues led the study to look at the reasons for the overuse of short-acting bronchodilator inhalers in young adults with asthma. 

The study included 21 adult asthma patients between 20 and 30 years old. A total of 12 patients were frequent users of short-acting bronchodilators and 9 patients were infrequent users. Frequent users had received three or more devices in the last three months while infrequent users had received less than three devices in the previous three months. 

Frequent users reported that they had adapted poorly to their asthma. They also reported feeling angrier and more resentful about having asthma than infrequent users.

Reasons given for frequent use included the speed, effectiveness and low cost of the bronchodilator. Frequent users reported that the device got them back to what they were doing before their asthma attack. 

Both frequent and infrequent users reported concerns about the cost of asthma medicine and reluctance to get pricier long-term medication. Both types of users felt embarrassed by their asthma and felt excluded from physical activities growing up. 

The authors suggested that strategies be developed to help asthma patients accept and adapt to their illness. 

"First, more effective education, especially at the time of diagnosis, but also at routine review, could focus on helping young people accept and adapt to their illness as well as helping them to develop an explanatory model of asthma that focuses on prevention using anti-inflammatory medication rather than quick relief via bronchodilators," authors said in the study. 

Because the study was small, the findings may not apply to general practice. The authors noted that the participants were most likely typical of asthma patients seen in urban medical practices. 

This study, titled "'The blue one takes a battering' why do young adults with asthma overuse bronchodilator inhalers? A qualitative study," was published in BMJ. It was funded by a grant from NELCRAD. Cole and colleagues disclosed no conflict of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 22, 2013
Last Updated:
August 15, 2013