Many Children With Asthma Use Their Inhalers Incorrectly, Leading To Serious Complications

Experts offer tips for proper use of asthma inhalers that will have kids and their parents breathing easier.



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10-year-old Amanda Grabel's asthma had gotten so severe that it was life-threatening. Desperate for a solution, her parents took her to several doctors, who kept writing more and more prescriptions. "It was very frustrating - they just kept giving more medicine, more medicine, and none of it helped." "She was afraid to go to sleep at night because she was afraid she was going to die."

Finally, the Grabels came to Dr. BJ Lanser, a specialist at National Jewish Health in Denver, who had a simple solution: it turns out Amanda had the right medicine; she was just taking it wrong. "We see children who just don't know how to use it at all so they take breaths in a totally different way that doesn't help get it into the lungs, which is where the medicine needs to go."

In fact, Dr. Lanser says most children he sees use inhalers incorrectly. He says the biggest mistake is not using a spacer - without it, about 80% of the medicine settles in the mouth and never gets into the lungs. Dr. Lanser says many children also don't realize that exhaling is just as important as inhaling. "Take some normal breaths and then a big deep breath to fully exhale so you then have empty lungs to take a nice deep breath and get all of your medicine in."

Other common mistakes involve how the inhaler is positioned. Dr. Lanser says kids should stand up straight when using inhalers with their head in a neutral position, not tipped back. Aim the inhaler at the back of the throat and close the lips tightly around the mouthpiece to keep the medication from escaping.

After learning the proper technique and practicing it, Amanda perfected her techniques and is back to being herself. "I don't have to worry about everything; I feel like I don't have asthma anymore. I do, but it feels like I don't." 

At National Jewish Health in Denver, this is Clark Collin.


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