Asthma inhalers may be contributing to air pollution: Study

Researchers at Cambridge University have found that asthma inhalers are one of the major sources of air pollution.

Myupchar November 05, 2019 16:32:56 IST
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Asthma inhalers may be contributing to air pollution: Study
  • Researchers at Cambridge University have found that asthma inhalers are one of the major sources of air pollution

  • Most metered-dose inhalers contain a compound called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA)

  • HFA is a potent greenhouse gas that is released into the air every time you use a metered-dose inhaler

Researchers at Cambridge University have found that asthma inhalers are one of the major sources of air pollution - ironic, given that air pollution affects asthmatic patients and those with lung diseases the most.

In their research published in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open, Dr James Smith, a consultant at the Department of Public Health, Cambridge University, wrote that most metered-dose inhalers contain a compound called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA). (Think of an asthma pump and you will likely picture a metered-dose inhaler - that’s how common they are.)

Asthma inhalers may be contributing to air pollution Study

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

HFA is a potent greenhouse gas that is released into the air every time you use a metered-dose inhaler. It contributes to an increase in carbon dioxide in the air, ultimately contributing to air pollution.

So does this mean we should quit inhalers? It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Know your inhalers

According to the National Institute of Health Care Excellence, UK, there are three different types of inhalers available in the market:

  • Metered-dose inhalers - either manually pressured or activated by breath. 
  • Mist sprays or nebulisers - these are small battery-powered devices that turn the drug into a mist or cloud without using propellants.
  • Dry powder inhalers - capsule type - to use this, the person has to inhale deeply through the inhaler.

Of these, only the metered-dose inhalers contain HFAs. These are not the actual medicine but the propellants that atomise the medicine and push it into your airways.

The cleaner option

Even though the research is new, the cautionary announcements about metered-inhalers are not. Earlier this year, the National Institute of Health Care Excellence, UK, warned asthmatic people to reduce the use of metered-dose inhalers, explaining that they contribute to a major part of the National Health Service's carbon footprint. (The National Health Service' or NHS, UK, is the public health service provider in that country.)

Asthma patients and those with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) were also urged to move to greener options - mist inhalers and dry powder inhalers.

In a press release, the Cambridge research team said that metered-dose inhalers have about 10 to 37 times greater carbon footprint — the amount of carbon dioxide released in air — than the dry-powder versions. And switching to greener options would reduce the total CO2 load by 58 Kilotonnes in England alone. This roughly equates to the emission produced by a vehicle in 180,000 round trips between Delhi and Prayagraj (formerly Allahabad) - nearly 700 kilometres on each side.

Explaining the need for the switch to greener options, Dr Alexander Wilkinson, Consultant in Respiratory Medicine from East and North Hertfordshire, NHS Trust, wrote: “It’s important to stress that patients shouldn’t stop using their usual treatments to reduce their carbon footprint. Instead, we recommend patients review their condition and treatment at least annually with their healthcare professional and at this point discuss whether a more environmentally-friendly inhaler is available and appropriate in their situation.”

At the time of going to print, the National Capital Region's air quality index registered 177-270, depending on which part of the city you look at. While below yesterday's hazardous levels, the air is still "unhealthy" in the NCR.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read Asthma: Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention.

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