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Understanding the difference between rescue inhalers and controller inhalers

You may be overusing your rescue inhaler

If you or someone you care for has asthma, you know all too well how important inhalers are for effectively managing the condition. However, you might be surprised to learn that not all inhalers work the same, and certain types of inhalers are better in certain situations.

Inhaler basics

Inhalers are commonly prescribed for patients who have lung conditions, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). When you have asthma, your airways can become inflamed and narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Inhalers help relax the muscles in your airways to allow for better airflow.

Rescue inhalers vs. controller inhalers

Inhalers come in two different forms.

  1. Rescue inhaler: These types of inhalers are short-acting beta agonists (SABAs). They work almost immediately to relieve shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing by relaxing the muscles of the lungs so that the airways can open up and air can travel freely in and out. Rescue inhalers can be lifesavers during an asthma attack. The most commonly prescribed rescue inhalers are albuterol and levalbuterol.

  2. Controller inhaler: Inhaled corticosteroids, as well as other long-acting beta agonists (LABAs), work to reduce inflammation and provide ongoing disease management. Unlike rescue inhalers that should only be used in an emergency situation, controller inhalers are used routinely, often once or twice daily — even when the patient isn’t experiencing any symptoms. Long-acting inhalers are sometimes combined with a corticosteroid into one combination inhaler to help reduce the likelihood of swelling and breathing problems. Not everyone with asthma will be prescribed a controller inhaler.

The consequences of overusing rescue inhalers

Rescue inhalers are mostly for emergency symptom management, but they can sometimes be overused. Using rescue inhalers in situations where they are not necessary can cause a patient to develop tolerance to the medication over time, making the medication less effective.

Overuse of rescue inhalers can also mask the severity of the underlying disease, as well as increase the risk of side effects including tachycardia (increased heart rate), insomnia, and nervousness.

If you find you need your rescue inhaler frequently, talk to your doctor about your medication regimen. You may need to make changes to your medications to better control your condition.

Our pharmacists are here to help

At Xubex Pharmacy, we have pharmacists with special training and knowledge of pulmonary conditions, including asthma and COPD. They review all prescriptions and, when appropriate, reach out to the prescriber and patient to ensure the medication is only used as needed.

Taking your medication as prescribed is crucial for preventing and stopping asthma attacks. That’s why our pharmacists are available to answer all your medication questions and advise you on which type of inhaler may be best in a given situation.

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