Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the US. Sadly, I’ve treated a number of the people who help to make up this statistic. Despite this achievement, people continue to smoke tobacco products. That just absolutely amazes me. Today, we’ll discuss one aspect of COPD (and asthma for that matter), that doesn’t get a lot of press; that is, the use of inhaled medications like albuterol.
A rescue inhaler is often prescribed by physicians to patients who suffer from COPD and asthma. What typically happens in these diseases, is the frequent occurrence of bronchospasm in the patient’s airways. These airways are made up of smooth muscle with can expand and contract depending on the stimulus or overall health of the tissue. In healthy lungs, a person’s airway does not move back and forth like this. It stays fairly static. However, because of inflammatory processes found within the lungs of COPD sufferers and the hair-trigger sensitivity in asthma patients, their airways become, what we call in the respiratory business, floppy. They spasm or constrict, which does not allow for the normal respiration of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
This is what causes many people to become short of breath or dyspnic. Let me tell you something, when you are short of breath, little else matters other than getting that next breath of oxygen. This is where the rescue inhaler comes in. Albuterol is a short acting bronchodilator or beta agonist. This medication is designed to dilate the constricted airway. Many asthmatics are familiar with this medication as well.
This med can be delivered either through an inhaled aerosol or as an inhaler. Many people have their personal preferences. However, inhalers are nice because you can take them with you and quickly deliver medication to where it is needed – directly to the airways. Technique is extremely important when administering the drug with this type of delivery system. In fact, we tell all of our patients to use a spacer device which really does make it idiot proof. I have seen many experienced patients use the inhaler incorrectly and then decide it isn’t for them. Well, if they were using it correctly, they would receive the relief they’re looking for. This is what makes the spacer so valuable.
Simply shake the inhaler vigorously for about 5 seconds, then insert it into the spacer device. Place your lips around the mouthpiece of the spacer and exhale normally through your nose. Now, begin inhaling and then actuate in inhaler, while maintaining a normally paced, deep inhalation. Once you have completely inhaled as deeply as possible, hold your breath for 10 seconds, before exhaling. Then wait 1 minute before repeating the step.