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Health Team

Asthma inhalers going green

Posted September 19, 2008 6:37 p.m. EDT

— The rescue inhaler, a lifeline for asthma sufferers is undergoing a change.

The propellant that pushes medicine into constricted lungs via more than 50 million prescriptions a year is going green.

During an an asthma attack, the lungs become inflamed and breathing becomes difficult. Sufferers inhale albuterol to relax and open their airways.

That medicine is pushed into the lungs via a propellant. Inhalers have long used CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons.

CFCs have come under fire for the damage they might cause to the ozone layer. The federal government has phased out their use in other consumer products.

"The propellant is changing to a more environmentally-friendly propellant," said Dr. Cliff Bassett with the NYU Medical Center. "Albuterol is the bronchodilator. It's not going anywhere. It's the same drug, the same effect," said Dr. Bassett.

The new inhalers use HFA, or hydroflouroalkane, to push the medicine into the lungs.

The change in ingredients brings another change for users. Unlike the old inhalers, the new ones need to be cleaned regularly to avoid clogging.

Rochelle Doctor has tried the new inhaler. She noted that while the spray is not as forceful, it works.

It also tastes slightly different. "It's not a bad taste. It's just a slight medicine taste," said Doctor.

Experts say the bottom line is that the new inhalers are just as effective as the old ones at stopping an asthma attack.

The HFA inhalers are now on the market and most manufacturers have already made the switch. Some patients may already have the new inhaler and not know it.