Asthma is not a benign disease. It affects more than 8% of Canadians, causing over 500 deaths each year. Several treatment options are available to asthma patients, but they have to be used appropriately if patients want to reap their full benefits!
Asthma is a chronic disease characterized by the presence of inflammation in the bronchi, the tubes that lead to the lungs. The muscles that surround the bronchi become tighter and excess mucus is produced, making it more difficult for air to flow through. Asthma causes highly variable symptoms, from patients to patients, from minor breathlessness to a choking sensation. But asthma can be controlled and most attacks and asthma-related deaths can be prevented at the same time.
Asthma drugs are divided into two main groups: those that dilate the bronchi to let more air flow through (called bronchodilators) and those that reduce bronchial inflammation (inhaled corticosteroids, or ICS). Because ICSs attack the problem at its source (bronchial inflammation), they are the only ones that can offer long-term control of the condition. They also reduce the number of attacks and the need to use rescue drugs (short-acting bronchodilators). Compared to bronchodilators that bring almost immediate relief, ICSs’ beneficial effects do not occur immediately. Because of their slow onset of action, they have to be taken on a regular basis to be effective.
When incorrectly used, ICSs can cause minor but unpleasant adverse effects that result from the deposition of corticosteroid in the oral cavity: thrush, voice disturbances, pharyngitis and cough, for example.
To reduce the risk of these adverse effects, by reducing the amount of drug that stay in the oral cavity, patients need to ensure that they follow their inhaler’s directions to the letter. They should also rinse their mouth with water every time they use their ICS. Asthma patients should regularly ask their pharmacist to check if they are using their inhalers appropriately, since it’s so easy to develop bad habits. For some asthma patients, using a spacing device (Aerochamber) can be a good option. Spacing devices should be washed with warm water and allowed to air dry at least once a week.
Still have questions about your asthma treatment? Talk to your pharmacist!