Today's big health story (so far) is a new report - Why asthma still kills - published by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) to coincide with World Asthma Day. According to the report, nearly three-quarters of asthma deaths could have been avoided with better care and better access to medical help. The RCP report recommends that everyone with asthma has their inhaler technique assessed formally once a year and whenever the pharmacist dispenses a new device.
So what should you be doing to make sure you are using your inhalers properly?
1. Check your technique
I suffer from mild asthma - my symptoms usually only strike at the peak of the hayfever season or when I have a respiratory infection such as a cold. I don't need new inhalers very often, because I don't use them very often, but I don't recall any pharmacist checking my inhaler technique when dispensing my prescriptions since I was first diagnosed over 30 years ago. I think the fact that I don't use inhalers on a regular basis could possibly make me more likely to forget the correct technique.
Even if your pharmacist doesn't mention it to you, make sure you ask them to check that you are using your inhaler properly. There's nothing like a one-to-one practical demonstration. However, for general guidance, you can also visit Asthma UK's Using your inhalers page.
2. Get the right products
If you are having problems using your inhaler (because of arthritis in your hands, for example), speak to your GP, who may be able to switch you to a different type of inhaler or suggest products that can help, such as the Haleraid or Turboaid - you can't get these on prescription, but your pharmacist should be able to order them in for you. Spacers, which are available on prescription, make aerosol inhalers more effective by trapping the medicine inside so you don't have to worry about pressing the inhaler and breathing in at the same time.
Use inhalers appropriately
Also speak to the pharmacist about when you use your inhalers. The RCP report found that asthma patients are relying too heavily on their reliever inhalers (usually blue) and not enough on their preventer inhalers (usually brown, red or orange). Nearly half of those who died from an asthma attack had not had an asthma review with their GP or nurse in the previous year.
3. Write an asthma action plan
According to the RCP report, better education is needed for doctors, nurses, patients and carers to make them more aware of the risks of asthma, to spot the warning signs of poor asthma control and to know what to do during an attack. All patients should be provided with a personal asthma action plan (PAAP), to help them identify if their asthma is worsening and tell them how and when to seek help. Asthma UK has a useful Asthma Action Plan that you can download from the charity's Personal action plan page and take to your GP or asthma nurse to discuss and fill in.
4. Have a Medicines Use Review
You can also ask your local pharmacist if they offer a Medicines Use Review (MUR) - this is a free NHS service in a private consultation room. You can discuss all your medicines with the pharmacist, to check they are all necessary, you are using them properly and to solve any problems you may have.