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Asthma reliever inhalers used one mln. times a day

News Release

Asthma patients use reliever inhalers one million times a day

Auckland, 28th January 2004 - Asthma patients are using their reliever inhaler more than twice as often as they should, and nationwide New Zealanders use one million reliever puffs a day. Over the last twelve months doctors have prescribed almost 1.6 million reliever inhalers1 (often referred to as the blue inhaler) for the estimated 600,000 people with asthma, the strongest indicator yet that asthma is not well controlled.

Associate Professor Robin Taylor said the figures are of great concern, as relievers should only need to be used when asthma is not under good control. " Relievers give a very fast feeling of relief for most people but should be a temporary measure. They don't address the problem of inflamed airways for asthma patients and those who do not use adequate preventer medicine are twice as likely to end up in hospital with an asthma-related problem.2"

Current evidence suggests not tackling the inflammation can lead to permanent scarring inside the lungs that cannot be repaired3. However airway inflammation is reversible when treated properly using a preventer. Patients who overuse their reliever without a preventer may start to experience more frequent problems. Asthma is still New Zealand's leading cause of hospital admission in children4.

"Part of the problem is that patients are unaware of how much reliever is too much. In general more than three reliever doses (six puffs) a week indicates their asthma is not well controlled. People should monitor how often they use their reliever and should ask their doctor about changing their treatment if they are using much more," says Professor Taylor.

In 2001, the economic burden of asthma was estimated by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation to be $825 million every year4. Further research last year showed that 70% of adults and 40% of children in New Zealand did not currently have their asthma under control5.

"Doctors should pay particular attention to anyone who requests a prescription for a reliever without a preventer inhaler. Patients who need one reliever inhaler a month are generally high risk and even using one every three months indicates they may have under-controlled asthma," says Professor Taylor.

Asthma patients should not stop using relievers for emergencies and should always have it available in case of any problem. Research has clearly shown asthma patients accept poor asthma control and wrongly consider frequent use of a reliever as acceptable. There are several more advanced medicines available which can keep asthma well controlled and should remove the need for frequent reliever use. There is a need by all parties involved in patient care to educate asthma patients about what is acceptable and what is achievable.

Professor Taylor is one of the lead investigators currently involved in a study to establish whether it is possible to give asthma patients total control of their asthma. This means no reliever use, no night-time wakenings, no emergency hospital visits, no exacerbations and no daily symptoms. The results of the GOAL (Gaining Optimal Asthma Control) study, which has involved around 70 New Zealand patients, are expected in February 2004.

Prepared for GlaxoSmithKline by Communication by Design.

What you should know about ventolin

Ventolin and Ventolin Forte (salbutamol BP, 100ƒÝg per actuation inhaler and salbutamol BP, 200ƒÝg per actuation inhaler), Prescription Medicine. For the relief of asthma symptoms. Do not use Ventolin if: you have had an allergic reaction to salbutamol. Tell your doctor if you are: suffering from severe or unstable asthma, having treatment for a thyroid problem, high blood pressure; have a heart, kidney or liver problem; are taking any other medication or herbal remedy. Common side effects: headache, nausea, shaky or tense feeling, fast or irregular heart beat, "warm" feeling (caused by blood vessels expanding under the skin), mouth or throat irritation, shortness of breath or wheezing. Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have any concerns.


1) IMS data: Reliever inhaler sales in the 12 months to September 03 were 1.58 million units - Each unit contains 200 puffs giving a total of 327 million puffs a year or 896,000 puffs a day. In July 03 reliever sales totalled 177,881 units - 35 million puffs or 1.15 million a day.

2) Blais L et al, Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1998;158:126-132

3) Ward C et al, Thorax 2002;57:309-316

4) Dr Shaun Holt, Professor Richard Beasley; The Burden of Asthma in New Zealand published by the Asthma & Respiratory Foundation of NZ Inc.; Dec 2001

5) Holt, S Beasley R; A Study Assessing Health Outcomes For Patients With Asthma in New Zealand; ATS May 2002.

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