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HFA Asthma Inhalers: Making the Switch

Deadline to make the transition to HFA inhalers is fast approaching. WebMD explains how HFA inhalers differ from CFC inhalers and how to make the changeover easier.
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3. So what's the major difference between CFC and HFA inhalers?

Cost.

CFC inhalers run about $5-$25 apiece, whereas the HFA inhalers cost $30 to $60, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

The HFA inhalers that have been available for about two years are brand-name, and it could be five years before patents expire, allowing less expensive generics to enter the market.

Sandra Fusco-Walker, director of patient advocacy for the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics, points out that the cost can be especially burdensome if parents need to buy inhalers their children can keep at home and in school. AANMA is part of a MDI (metered dose inhaler) working group that went to Congress last spring to ask lawmakers to consider subsidizing the cost of the HFA inhalers, to no avail.

"People are having to make a choice between a bronchodilator and controller medications, but we need these bronchodilators on us if we have symptoms," Fusco-Walker tells WebMD.

The drug companies that make the four HFA inhalers offer assistance programs to patients who cannot afford them. For information, call the Partnership for Prescription Assistance at 1-888-477-2669 or visit the web site at www.pparx.org.

4. How many quick-relief inhalers do people with asthma need in the course of a year?

Norman Edelman, MD, a pulmonologist and chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, says two to three inhalers should be enough to last a year. Canisters contain somewhere between 180 and 200 "puffs."

He says many people with asthma use the rescue inhalers far more than they should. People whose asthma is under control might need to use the inhaler once or twice a week, or if they exercise, a few times more.

"Many use more because, let's face it, a large percentage of asthmatics are not being optimally controlled," he says. "It's the patient, the doctor, the system, the cost - it's everything."

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, a typical drug regimen for someone with asthma includes a rescue inhaler along with two controller medications, usually an inhaled steroid and a long-acting bronchodilator or a drug that combines both of the latter.

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