Over-the-Counter Asthma Inhalers Should Be Used Cautiously
According to Nicholas Malerba, director of respiratory therapy at Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson, N.Y., use of OTC asthma inhalers often results in patients' not seeking medical attention, which can have very serious consequences. For this reason, he maintains that OTC inhalers should be taken off the market.
Malerba tells WebMD, "We have gotten a lot of patients who come in here after using an OTC inhaler improperly. They think that if a little is good, a lot must be better, and that's simply not true. They end up with rebound effect [where their air passages shut down], and it's very difficult for us to pull them out of it."
Altman acknowledges that such a condition is possible if someone uses OTC inhalers too often, but says that the research doesn't show that this happens very often.
Altman believes that for the patient with mild, occasional asthma, the OTC asthma inhalers can be a reasonable choice. He says, "My daughter had severe asthma when she was very small, but now that she's in her 30s, she only experiences tightness in her chest every one to three months. For my daughter, OTC inhalers are a reasonable choice."
For consumer safety, Altman says, "Our group has recommended to the FDA that labeling [of OTC asthma inhalers] be strengthened, and they are doing so. The new labeling will emphasize the need for further medical care if symptoms do not improve after using the OTC inhaler."