Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a group of chronic lung diseases, including emphysema and bronchitis, that block airflow in the lungs. Damaged lungs and mucus buildup make it hard for the lungs to spread oxygen to the rest of the body, which makes breathing difficult for people living with COPD. While there is no cure for COPD, it can be managed. One way to manage it is by controlling symptoms through medications.
Inhalers and inhalation therapies are the primary medication treatments for COPD. Medications help treat symptoms, control complications, reduce flare-ups, and increase the time between flare-ups (i). However, these benefits can only be reached when the inhaler device is used correctly. Incorrect inhaler use can occur in nearly 50% of cases (i) and can be attributed to several factors:
- Patient characteristics (cognitive condition, self-efficacy, co-morbidities)
- Social factors (provider-patient relationship, access, support, training, follow-up)
- Medication treatment (device, methods, dosing, side effects) (i)
These factors, combined or by themselves, can lead to critical errors of inhaler use. Common errors include:
- Not inhaling through the device
- Blowing on a device that has a powder ready to be inhaled
- Insufficient inhalation duration or force
- Not holding the device correctly (ii)
When a patient misuses his or her inhaler, medication can’t be delivered properly and minimizes the benefits. When a medication is not used to achieve full benefits, patients may feel that it’s not working and stop using it. This non-adherence can then lead to flare-ups, worsening symptoms, and even hospitalizations (iii).
There are several strategies that can help improve and achieve correct inhaler use. It’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about how to correctly use the prescribed inhaler. At your next medical appointment, be sure to bring the inhaler and show your provider how you use it. This allows your provider to correct any mistakes and gives you the opportunity to ask any questions. There are many types of inhaler devices, so be honest about your lifestyle when speaking with you provider. They’ll be able to prescribe a device that suits your needs and lifestyle.
It may be a good idea to create and maintain a routine to ensure you stick to your dosing schedule. While inhalers may not fit in regular pillboxes, they can be stored next to them or in view of other medications. It’s important to continue using your prescribed medications even if you start feeling better. Always consult your provider before stopping any medication use. (iv)
Medications are essential to managing a COPD diagnosis. Correct inhaler techniques, honest conversations with healthcare professionals, and adhering to medication routines can help you live better with COPD.
- i Jardim, J. R., & Nascimento, O. A. (2019, April 1). The importance of inhaler adherence to prevent COPD exacerbations. Medical sciences (Basel, Switzerland). Retrieved March 10, 2022, from
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6524014/#:~:text=Poor%20adherence%20to%20asthma%20treatment,outco mes%20for%20patients%2C%20and%20reducing
- ii Price, D., Bosnic-Anticevich, S., Briggs, A., Chrystyn, H., Rand, C., Scheuch, G., & Bousquet, J. (2012, October 23). Inhaler competence in asthma: Common errors, barriers to use and recommended solutions. Respiratory Medicine. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0954611112003587
- iii Schreiber, J., Sonnenburg, T., & Luecke, E. (2020, August 20). Inhaler devices in asthma and COPD patients – a prospective cross-sectional study on inhaler preferences and error rates – BMC Pulmonary Medicine. BMC Pulmonary Medicine. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from https://bmcpulmmed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12890-020-01246-z
- iv George, M. (2018, June 1). Adherence in asthma and COPD: New strategies for an old problem. American Association for Respiratory Care. Retrieved March 11, 2022, from http://rc.rcjournal.com/content/63/6/818