Around a million people are using the wrong inhaler to treat asthma, increasing the risk of a serious illness, a charity has warned.
An estimated one in five people in the UK are using a reliever inhaler instead of a preventer one to manage their condition, according to Asthma and Lung UK.
Preventer inhalers are meant to be used every day to help keep inflammation and swelling down in the airways, preventing the risk of having an asthma attack.
Reliever inhalers, which are usually blue, should instead be used when someone is suffering with asthma symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing and breathlessness.
Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead for the charity, explained: “It’s vital that people with asthma have access to a preventer inhaler and take it every day, as this keeps the inflammation down in your airways and prevents symptoms.
“You should still take your reliever inhaler when symptoms come on. But if you are needing it three times a week or more, this is a sign of untreated inflammation in your airways and it’s really important you make an appointment with your GP, nurse or pharmacist to discuss your treatment options.”
Reliever inhalers used triple recommended amount
A poll from the charity found that 21% of people with asthma are using at least six reliever inhalers each year, which is triple the amount that experts suggest.
The overuse of reliever inhalers suggests that for many asthmatics, their condition is poorly controlled.
The charity is now calling for “outdated” national guidance on asthma care to be updated to ensure people are being prescribed a preventer inhaler.
It also warned that “dismal rates” of people with asthma accessing basic care could be contributing to the overuse of reliever inhalers.
The survey of 8,300 people from across the UK with asthma found that 70% missed out on getting the three elements of basic asthma care from their GP or asthma nurse. This includes an inhaler technique check, a written asthma plan and an annual review.
Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma and Lung UK, said: “People with asthma are being let down by dismal rates of basic care caused by pressures on the NHS and outdated treatment guidelines.
“Four people still die of an asthma attack every day but deaths from asthma are often preventable. We don’t want to see any more lives needlessly cut short.
“We are urging the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to update its guidelines for healthcare professionals so that relievers are no longer prescribed without preventative treatment and we need to see an urgent increase in basic care such as yearly asthma reviews and inhaler technique checks so people are better equipped to manage their symptoms and use their inhalers effectively.”
The NHS recommends seeing a GP if you have asthma and are finding the symptoms hard to control.
Inhalers are the main treatment for asthma, but some people with more severe symptoms may require tablets or other forms of treatment.
A doctor or asthma nurse will usually create a personalised action plan to help treat the condition.