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One million asthma patients rely too heavily on rescue inhalers, charity warns

About a million people with asthma rely on reliever inhalers to manage their condition, increasing the risk of serious illness, a charity has warned.

Asthma and Lung UK said around one in five people with asthma in the UK use their rescue inhaler instead of their preventer inhaler.

Preventer inhalers should be used every day to reduce inflammation and swelling in the airways and prevent a person from having an asthma attack, while a rescue inhaler, which is usually blue, should be used when a person has asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.

A survey by the charity found that 21% use at least six reliever inhalers a year, triple the amount suggested by experts.

He warned that excessive use of a rescue inhaler puts people at higher risk of an asthma attack.

The charity called for ‘outdated’ national asthma care guidelines to be updated to ensure people are prescribed a preventive inhaler.

He also warned that the “dismal rates” of people with asthma accessing basic care could contribute to the overuse of rescue inhalers.

The survey of 8,300 people with asthma across the UK found that 70% had not received all three elements of basic asthma care from their GP or an asthma nurse specialist: an inhaler technique check-up, a written asthma plan and an annual review.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma and Lung UK, said: “People with asthma are disappointed with dismal rates of basic care caused by pressure on the NHS and outdated treatment guidelines.

“Four people still die from asthma attacks every day, but deaths from asthma are often preventable. We no longer want to see lives cut short unnecessarily.

“We urge the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to update its guidelines for healthcare professionals so that painkillers are no longer prescribed without preventive treatment and we must see an urgent increase basic care such as annual asthma exams and inhaler technique checks so people are better equipped to manage their symptoms and use their inhalers effectively.

Dr Andy Whittamore, the charity’s clinical lead, added: “It’s essential that people with asthma have access to a preventer inhaler and take it every day, as it reduces inflammation in your airways and prevents symptoms.

“You should always take your reliever inhaler when symptoms appear.

“But if you need it three times a week or more, that’s a sign of untreated inflammation in your airways and it’s really important that you make an appointment with your GP, nurse or pharmacist to discuss your treatment options.”