Do You Have Asthma or COPD? Meet Your Lifesaver

Marina Matthews, PharmD Candidate,
University of Kansas School of Pharmacy

August 18, 2016

scriptsave_wellrx_asthma_inhaler
Last updated: August, 2020

Asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) are the most common breathing conditions that require the use of inhalers. Inhalers can be categorized to rescue inhaler or controller inhaler based on their purpose of use. Inhaler devices are not created equal.

It is very important to take your medication the right way. Inhalers help with delivering medicines straight to your lungs where they are needed. Having your medicines delivered this way helps you to get the most benefit of your medications with the least amount of side effects, as long as you use them properly.

Pharmaceutical companies make several different inhaler devices. Sometimes, the same drug is available in several different inhalers.  There are several types of inhaler devices that are used differently: metered dose inhaler, diskus, handihaler, twisthaler, neohaler, repimat, and pressair.

If you are having difficulties using your inhaler device, ask your local pharmacist to help you learn how to properly use it. For more information on how to use inhaler, visit the website How to Use Inhalers.

Do you need to save money on your rescue or controller inhaler?

Differences Between Asthma and COPD

Because asthma and COPD have several similarities, it can be difficult to distinguish between them. Symptom wise: A daily morning cough that produces phlegm is characteristic of chronic bronchitis, a type of COPD. Episodes of wheezing and chest tightness, especially at night, is more common with asthma.

Asthma can be associated with seasonal allergies, atopic dermatitis, or exercise. COPD, however, is closely associated with a history of smoking, while asthma occurs in both non-smokers and smokers. The treatment options for asthma and COPD are very different, so a proper diagnosis is important for your health and management of symptoms. For more information about Asthma specifically, visit What You Need to Know About Asthma.

Rescue Inhalers

Traditionally, rescue inhalers have been the cornerstone of care for asthma. They are commonly prescribed for patients with asthma to be used as needed for sudden shortness of breath and/or preventing exercise-induced breathing problems. A rescue inhaler is typically not used on a daily basis unless specifically instructed by your doctor.

A rescue inhaler is used to open the airways to allow air to flow freely into your lungs quickly. It usually starts to work within few minutes and its effect may last for several hours.  If you have asthma, it is very important to keep your rescue inhaler with you at all times. Before you leave the house, remember to take your rescue inhaler because it can be your “life saver.”

Common rescue inhalers include albuterol that is available in three brands; ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, and Ventolin HFA.

Updates to the GINA (The Global Initiative for Asthma) guidelines made in 2019 have made some major changes to the way doctors approach rescue inhalers. These guidelines published by GINA no longer recommend the use of rescue inhalers to be used alone. So, while many would start with a rescue inhaler initially as their medication, this has now changed the options available for patients. The guidelines recommend all patients be on a controller inhaler daily with the rescue on board for extra help if needed, so two different inhalers with two different purposes.

Controller Inhaler

Controller inhalers can be used for both asthma and COPD to control your breathing conditions and prevent symptoms from occurring. A controller inhaler is not meant to treat sudden shortness of breath or a breathing attack. It has to be used on daily basis as prescribed by your doctor, regardless of whether you are having trouble breathing, to prevent symptoms before they occur.

Using your controller inhaler on a scheduled basis helps you to get the most benefit of your breathing medicine and decrease your need for rescue inhaler. In contrast to rescue inhalers, a controller inhaler works much slower and its effects last much longer.

Advair, Dulera, Qvar, Flovent, Breo Ellipta, and Asmanex, are commonly used controller inhalers to help reduce airway inflammation. Another common inhaled corticosteroid is Symbicort, which can also be used as a rescue inhaler for some patients.

Make sure to rinse and spit after each use of a controller inhaler to reduce your chances of getting an infection in your mouth.  You don’t need to rinse and spit with every inhaler. There are numerous inhalers on the market with different active ingredients and different purposes.

Other common controller inhalers, like Spiriva, Combivent, Stiolto, and Utibron Neohaler, can be used as controlled medications and do not contain any corticosteroids, but other medications that will help control symptoms. Be sure to confirm how to use the inhaler with your doctor or pharmacist.

Symptoms of COPD or asthma can be controlled with effective treatment and management. This involves taking your medications as directed and learning to avoid triggers. If you find you are using a rescue inhaler more than twice a week, or having trouble breathing during the night when you are sleeping, are signs that your breathing condition is not well controlled. In this case, you need to follow up with your doctor to see if you need adjustment to your breathing medicines to prevent future breathing attacks and reduce symptoms.

Key point: Always use your controller inhaler to prevent having to use your rescue inhaler more than you should. Overusing your rescue inhaler causing the medication to build up in your system, potentially leading to shakiness, headache, and feeling nervous and excitable. The long-term overuse of a rescue inhaler can cause it to become less effective over time. It is very important to use your controller inhaler on daily basis as prescribed and reserve the use of rescue inhaler to when you actually need it.

References:

  1. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/library/asthma-library/asthma-and-copd-differences-and-similarities
  2. https://www.aaaai.org/conditions-and-treatments/asthma
  3. https://ginasthma.org/

Visit www.WellRx.com to find low prices on
ProAir HFA, Proventil HFA, and Ventolin HFA, or
Advair, Dulera, Qvar, Flovent, Breo Ellipta, Asmanex, and Symbicort
at pharmacies near you.

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