Interestingly enough, it’s not as easy as you’d think to detect when your asthma inhaler is running on empty. Here’s a simple hack from our pharmacist Dan, to give you peace of mind that your puffer will never let you down
You may think the answer to this is painstakingly obvious — a person knows when their asthma inhaler is empty when it stops spraying — but in actual fact, most inhalers surprisingly don’t alert you to the fact they need replacing. Even when the inhaler medication has run out, many bronchodilator or anti-inflammatory inhalers will continue to make a sound when shaken because the remaining inactive gases still present in the canister. It’s therefore impossible to know when the medication has run out, as it will continue to release some spray when it’s used.
Because of this, it's possible to continue using an asthma inhaler while inhaling only propellant and no actual medicine. This can be extremely dangerous for the asthma sufferer, especially in the case of rescue inhalers that are used to treat asthma symptoms in an emergency. What's more, breathing these substances without the medicine could actually cause your symptoms to worsen.
More than 2.7 million Australians are living with diagnosed asthma, and thousands are hospitalised as a result of asthma attacks each year. If you suffer with asthma, it’s essential that you carry a fully functioning puffer with you at all times to avoid asthma attacks from spiralling out of control.
But short of having an endless supply of expensive inhalers to replace the ‘almost empty’ ones, what can you do to make sure your puffer is always prepped?
We spoke to our pharmacist Dan, to get his expert advice on how to keep track of your inhaler. Here are a few simple techniques you can try to make sure your puffer is locked and loaded and always ready for action.
How to Tell When Your Inhaler Has Run Out
Hack #1: Keep Tracks of the Number of Puffs You’ve Used
This is a little time consuming and labour intensive, but each inhaler will report how many puffs you’ll get in one canister. This information is usually on the packaging. To keep tabs on how many puffs you use, keep a diary, then when you know you’re coming close to its maximum puff capacity, you’ll know it’s time to invest in a new one. Alternatively, if you know how many puffs you use per day, you can calculate in advance roughly when you need to replace it.
Hack #2 The Float Test
If your inhaler is full, it will sink to the bottom of a container of water. So the simple way to test how much is left in the canister, is to place it in water to see if it floats. Very simple, but very effective. All you need to do is take the metal canister out of its plastic holder and place it in a container of water. A full canister will be heavy, so it either sinks or floats (if some of the spray has been used) with its top pointing down in the water.
A half-full canister is less heavy and will float at a 45 degree angle with its top popping up above the water’s surface.
An empty canister is light, and will therefore float almost horizontally on the surface of the water.
Although this does give you an indication of when the canister is full, it’s not a precise method to distinguish between whether it’s empty or nearly empty. Luckily, there’s a new Ventolin inhaler that comes with a dosage counter, so asthma sufferers will be able to tell precisely when they need to invest in a new puffer.
Asthma Australia chief executive Michele Goldman said in an article on Health Times, the new 'puffer' could reduce hospital visits and even save lives in an emergency.
"People with asthma will often have several relievers in various places, making it easy to lose track of how much medication remains in each canister," she said in a statement.
“The new dose counter will definitely help take the guess work out, and may cut down on wastage too.”
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