Many asthmatics may be overusing their rescue inhalers, study finds

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A new study by researchers at Queen Mary University of London has explored some of the health risks asthmatics may face from overusing their rescue inhalers or short-acting beta-agonists. (SABA). According to their findings, more than a quarter of asthmatics misuse medication, putting them at higher risk for more severe asthma attacks.

“There is an ongoing major burden of inappropriate and unsafe overuse of rescue inhalers in asthma, and our article highlights the complexity of the problem with multiple reasons why patients are over-prescribed SABA inhalers,” said researcher Paul Pfeffer. “The findings call for more detailed research into interventions to reduce inappropriate SABA overuse in different patient groups.”

Avoid overuse of the inhaler

The researchers analyzed data from more than 700,000 asthma patients from nearly 120 practices in east London. The patients ranged in age from five to 80, and the researchers reviewed their medical histories, including the number of prescriptions they got for SABA inhalers and any history of hospitalization for asthma symptoms.

Researchers found that 26% of participants had received six or more prescriptions in a year for SABA inhalers, which was the threshold for overuse of the drug. Previous research has shown that when asthma patients use this type of medication too much, it can actually worsen their asthma symptoms and make more severe attacks more frequent.

The study also showed that while SABA inhalers were over-prescribed, corticosteroids, which can help prevent severe asthma symptoms, were under-prescribed. About 25% of those who received at least six prescriptions for SABA inhalers underused these asthma preventive measures.

Going forward, the researchers hope these findings will lead to more streamlined efforts among healthcare professionals when it comes to prescribing rescue inhalers.

“Working with patients to improve the regular use of preventer inhalers should be central to reducing asthma-related hospitalizations,” said researcher Anna De Simoni. “There is still a lot of room for improvement – ​​we have calculated that helping patients who use more than 12 SABA inhalers per year to reduce their use to four to 12 could lead to 70% fewer admissions to hospital-related asthma in this group.

“We must also provide [general practitioners] and pharmacists with the right tools to help patients do just that. In the next phase of this research program, we plan to provide practices with tools to support the identification and management of high-risk patients based on prescribing needs.