Are Over-the-counter Asthma Inhalers Safe?

Asthma, also referred as bronchospasm, is a chronic lung disease, wherein the airways of the lungs become narrow. As a result, the patients find difficulty in breathing in and out, and suffer breathing problems like wheezing (a whistling sound when you breathe), shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, and coughing. The condition is more common in children, but is also noticed in adults who have a weak immune system. Asthma mainly occurs due to some allergic reactions to dust, pollens, dust mites, animal fur, molds, pollution, etc., which lead to inflammation and swelling of the airways. This inflammation further results in mucus production and muscle tightening, causing wheezing and dry cough in patients.

The condition is usually diagnosed with the presence of wheezing, and is confirmed by conducting some breathing tests, which monitor the flow of air in and out of the lungs. The good point is that there are various over-the-counter treatment medications available for asthma, of which, inhalers are the most effective and convenient method of treatment. Hence, in the following sections, we discuss in detail what are the different inhalers for asthma over the counter, and how they help curing the asthma symptoms.

Over-the-counter Inhalers: Are They Safe?

Over-the-counter asthma inhalers are considered to be quick-relief medication, that help to reduce the symptoms within a few minutes. However, these over-the-counter breathing aids are highly effective for those people, who suffer from mild asthma, i.e., patients who do not take regular asthma medications and/or experience symptoms once or twice a week. These asthma inhalers without prescription primarily include epinephrine, also known as adrenalin, a medicine that relaxes the muscles located in the airways, and helps the person breathe easily. In addition to epinephrine, at times, an expectorant, which helps in opening the airways by loosening the mucous, is also included in some over-the-counter asthma medications.

Though these inhalers provide instant relief from asthma symptoms like wheezing, their effect lasts only for a few hours, and if not used properly, they may cause some side effects. Research shows that occasional use of over-the-counter asthma inhalers is safe and effective, but gross or improper use of these products can result in adverse effects, including death. Basically these inhalers stimulate the heart, and cause increased heart rate and blood pressure. Hence, for people who are already suffering from heart diseases, these inhalers can be hazardous, and so such patients should use these inhalers carefully, and should avoid using them frequently.

Apart from these, another treatment option is taking tablets containing ephedrine, a drug that relaxes and dilates the bronchial passageways, and improves the passages of air into the lungs. The tablet is directly taken into the mouth, and is absorbed through the stomach. The main advantage of these tablets over the inhalers is that the onset of action is more gradual, and the effect lasts for a longer duration of time. Also the medication has comparatively less side effects as compared to asthma inhalers.

Though over-the-counter inhalers for asthma are easily available, and extremely useful, and quick in overcoming asthma symptoms, it is strongly recommended to consult your doctor before using them. This can help avoid overuse or misuse of these epinephrine-based inhalers, and in turn, the adverse reactions in patients. Also despite providing instant relief, these inhalers are best suited to patients suffering from mild asthma, i.e., who use them occasionally, as their long term or frequent use can keep the patient from seeking proper medical care from his/her doctor, which indeed can worsen the asthma.