National Consumers League

Health

NCL Health Issues

Changes for asthma medication

attention open in a new window

Know your asthma medications so you can  breathe easierRecently there has been important news from the Food and Drug Administration about the medications used to treat asthma. Understanding your asthma medications will help you understand your asthma and keep you healthy.

If you have asthma you should be seeing a health care practitioner and have a treatment plan in place, which may include medications. Asthma is usually treated with two kinds of medications - fast-acting inhalers (or rescue inhalers) and long-term controllers. Recently the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made some important announcements regarding both long-term controllers and fast-acting inhalers.

Long-term controllers: long-acting beta-agonists (LABAs)

LABAs are used as long-term asthma controllers relax muscles in the airways and lungs. They can help patients breathe easier and lessen symptoms of asthma such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Because of safety concerns, FDA is requiring changes to how LABAs are used to treat asthma. Studies have shown that use of LABAs increase the risk of hospitalization and even death.

FDA is now requiring the following to appear on the label to ensure the safe use of the LABAs:

  1. LABAs should only be used by those who cannot control their asthma with other medications, and then only for the shortest possible time.
  2. LABAs should never be used without also taking an asthma controller medication, like an inhaled corticosteroid. Medications that include both a LABA and an inhaled corticsteroid are Advair and Symbicort. Single ingredient LABAs such as Serevent and Foradil, should not be used alone.
  3. Children and teens should be prescribed only the combination LABAs to ensure compliance with both medications.

In addition to the label changes, FDA is requiring the manufacturers of LABAs to study the drug’s safety when combined with other drugs, such as inhaled corticosteroids. The manufacturers must also develop risk evaluation and mitigation strategies. These include new medication guides for patients and an education plan for healthcare professionals about the appropriate use of LABAs,

Fast-acting inhalers

Recently the FDA announced the phase out of seven fast acting inhalers that use chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Due to concerns about how CFCs damage the earth’s ozone, which protects life from the damaging effects of the sun's ultraviolet rays, the US has been banning the use of CFCs since the 1970s. CFCs, which make the contents of a canister spray out, have been banned in most consumer aerols, (such as hairspray) for decades. CFCs aren’t harmful to people. Medical devices using CFCs are among the last to be affected.

Many manufacturers have reformulated or are reformulating their inhalers so they don’t contain CFCs. Four of the seven inhalers that were part of FDA’s announcement are no longer being made. The three other inhalers will be phased out over the next three years, and will be banned after the end of 2013. A new way of delivering asthma medications has started replacing CFCs and is called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA). It has been used in inhalers for more than a decade and will continue to replace CFC inhalers as they’re phased out.

The asthma medication in the new inhalers is the same. Only the way the inhaler gets the medicine to your lungs is different. If you use one of the CFC inhalers being phased out, talk to your health care practitioner about using another type of inhaler that does not use CFCs

For more information on the devices that are no longer being made and whose sale will be forbidden after 2013 see the FDA’s announcement.