Asthma: The Rescue Inhaler -- Now a Cornerstone of Asthma Treatment
The Evolution of the Rescue Inhaler
Treating asthma symptoms with beta-agonist bronchodilators has been a standard part of asthma care since the 1980s -- providing new hope for people who, up until that time, had few ways to manage their symptoms.
"When I first came into practice many, many years ago, people would light a flame under a powder [from the plant extract, scopolamine] and they'd inhale it, and this would help relieve some of their symptoms," says Honsinger.
In the 1960s, medications like isoproterenol were approved for use for asthma patients, but while they were a vast improvement over a burning powder, they still had drawbacks.
"These drugs were stimulating, making people shaky and making their hearts pound," says Honsinger. "They would carry around a glass bulb and they'd squeeze the rubber end that was attached to it, and it made a mist and they'd inhale."
When the first beta-agonist, albuterol, was approved by the FDA in 1980, under the trade name Ventolin, it introduced a new lease on life for people with asthma.
"When albuterol came out, we knew it was more convenient -- a better drug with fewer side effects and less risk," says Honsinger. "But it also allowed asthmatics to do the things they'd always wanted to do but never been able -- like exercise and outdoor activities."
Rescue Inhalers: Never Leave Home Without One
Rescue inhalers work so quickly and so well in reducing asthma symptoms that there's no reason a person with asthma should leave home without one. But if the rescue inhaler does get left behind and you're in the middle of nowhere with no access to medical care, you can resort to old-fashioned remedies.
"A cup of coffee or tea can help reduce asthma symptoms, but it takes a long time to work and it only last two or three hours," says Randolph, who is a Fellow with the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. "If you're without your inhaler, take slow deep breaths, relax, take a hot shower, and breathe in the warm, humid air, which will help open the airways."
Home remedies, however, are no substitute for the real deal.
"You should remember that none of these remedies are nearly as good as rescue medication," says Randolph. "You should always have your inhaler nearby if you have asthma."