May is asthma month. As a certified asthma educator, this topic is close to my heart. Asthma affects more than 3 million people across Canada. It is thought to be the most common disease and the leading cause for children missing school. There are lots of other statistics I could tell you, but I won’t. The good news is that asthma is treatable and your Pharmacist can help in the simplest of ways.
But first let’s discuss what asthma is. By definition, asthma is a reversible constriction of the airways associated with inflammation and increased mucus production. People who don’t have asthma might find it difficult understanding what an asthma attack feels like. Breathing through a larger drinking straw is a pretty good simulation. The symptoms of shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing can be very frightening.
Asthma symptoms generally get worse when exposed to allergy ‘triggers’. The classic example of this is someone that has an allergy attack when a cat jumps on their lap. This is an oversimplification of the situation, triggers can be anything that irritates the airways. It could be pet dander, pollens, food, dust or strong aromas. Ironically, as I write this article the person sitting next to me had asthma like symptoms from walking in the cold air. One of the mainstays of asthma treatment is to avoid asthma triggers, which is easier said than done. If nothing else, keep the bedroom as clear of allergens as possible using a HEPA air filter and keeping the door closed.
So how can your Heart Pharmacist help with asthma treatment? They can ensure that you use your asthma inhaler medications properly. This might seem simplistic, but studies have shown that only 12% of asthma patients use their inhalers correctly. That means that of the ten asthma patients I see a day, only one patient uses their inhaler correctly. Pharmacists are ideally situated to help ensure asthma patients improve their inhaler technique. Even slight improvements can lead to better outcomes.
These inhaler devices are meant to be easy to use, but they are not perfect. And over time patients can forget important steps so their technique may get worse. Last week I spent 20 minutes with someone making sure they used their inhaler correctly. If you think that healthcare professionals are any better, think again. In one study only 15% of doctors could demonstrate the use of an asthma inhaler properly. If they worked in the emergency department, that success rate dropped to 9%. Clearly lots of work needs to be done to ensure patients, and health care professionals know how to use asthma inhalers properly.
Check in with your Heart Pharmacist for inhaler training. Even if you are sure you are using your inhaler correctly, it is always good to double check. I don’t like to recommend it but if you are pressed for time, look to the internet for proper technique videos. Most pharmaceutical companies websites have videos that demonstrate proper inhaler technique. You could also look at YouTube for instructional videos. While this is not as good as a Heart to Heart meeting, it can help make your asthma treatments more effective. Ask to book an asthma inhaler training session with your Heart Pharmacist.