One Million Brits Could Be Using Asthma Inhalers Incorrectly – And Lives Are At Risk

“I would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath."

“I’ve been rushed to hospital countless times with my asthma, and been put on drips, nebulisers, and even ended up in intensive care,” says Paul Wilson, 44. “I would wake up in the middle of the night gasping for breath and it felt like someone was sitting on my chest.”

Wilson has been hospitalised 48 times because of his asthma, and had to be resuscitated on 25 occasions. But he admits he’d never given too much thought about how to manage his asthma or use his inhaler properly – “I was just taking a puff and hoping for the best.”

He’s not alone in his approach. More than a million people in the UK could be at risk of an asthma attack because they aren’t having yearly inhaler checks with their GP or asthma nurse, according to Asthma UK.

The charity surveyed more than 10,000 people with asthma about whether they were receiving the annual checks – and nearly one in five (19%) were not.

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson

Wilson realised he needed help, and booked an appointment with his asthma nurse for a medication review. He was told the way he was using his inhaler meant that only 10-20% of the medicine was getting into his lungs.

Medical staff showed Wilson, who is from Beith near Glasgow, how to use his inhaler and gave him a spacer – a hollow chamber that attaches to the inhaler and makes it easier for the medicine to get into the lungs.

“The difference it has made to my asthma is incredible,” he says. “I even ran the London Marathon for Asthma UK last year. I never thought that something so simple could completely turn my life around.”

If people use their inhaler incorrectly, there’s a risk that the full dose of medicine stays in their mouth or the back of their throat – this can make people more likely to experience side effects such as oral thrush and a sore throat.

Some common mistakes people make include: breathing into the inhaler too forcefully or not forcefully enough, not breathing in deeply enough, or not preparing their inhaler properly, such as shaking it before use.

Everyone with asthma should get their inhaler technique checked as part of their yearly asthma review with their GP or asthma nurse, according to national guidelines. But Asthma UK suggests that with dozens of types of inhalers that need to be taken in different ways, it can be difficult for doctors and nurses to know how they all work.

The charity has launched a series of videos on its website which demonstrate how to use more than 21 different inhalers, spacers or nasal sprays including pMDI, Turbohaler and HandiHaler. This comes after it received more than 3,000 calls last year from people needing help with using their inhaler.

Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK and a practising GP, says it’s “worrying” that many people aren’t getting their technique checked by a medical professional: “Even a small tweak to how someone uses their inhaler can make a huge difference and could prevent them having a life-threatening asthma attack.”

Visit Asthma UK’s website to watch the short video guides on using inhalers properly.