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Inhaler Users Get Only Half Medicine Per Puff

Update Date: Mar 02, 2017 07:00 AM EST

Researchers found out that patients are getting only half of the medicine they should get from each puff from an inhaler. This affects millions of Americans who are diagnosed with lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to Ashutosh Sabharwal, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University, between 70 and 90 percent of the time, medicines from the inhalers do not make it to the patients lungs. Together with Nick Hanania, associate professor of medicine and director of the Airways Clinical Research Center at Baylor College of Medice, they want to find out the common mistakes in the use of inhaler and how it affects the delivery of the medicine into the patient's lungs.

Inhalers are most efficient delivery mechanism for many patients. However, they require deft maneuvers on the part of the patients. The common errors are known to physicians but fixing it continues to be a challenge, Sabharwal added.

To address this problem in the use of inhaler, Sabharwal's team at Rice's Scalable Health Lab uses the latest technology such as sensors, smartphones and wearable devices. The lab has already made some innovations like self-use retinal imaging system, mobile spirometer, wearable technology for monitoring diets, apps to evaluate depression and extracting technique for vital signs from video.

Hanania said that in the best case, a puff inhaler results in about 40 percent delivery of the lungs. Errors happen because patients need coordination, precision and timing. Just a slight deviation from the technique can reduce the amount of medicine reaching the lungs.

Sabharwal and the team hope that the medical community will look into the results of their research. The current guidelines in Global Initiative for Asthma should be evaluated and updated.  The propellant used in inhalers has already changed over the years, but the current guidelines are still based on the old inhalers.

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