If you have asthma, you’re no stranger to the standard, pressurized MDI (MDI). However, recent studies have shown that MDIs have a significant carbon footprint, equating to an estimate of 500g of greenhouse gas emissions per dose. In fact, according to the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), one hundred doses (the typical amount contained in a canister) from an MDI, creates the same carbon footprint as a 180-mile car journey. The solution? Recent research suggests that switching to a dry powder inhaler could help you significantly reduce your impact on the environment.
What Are Dry Powder Inhalers?
Dry powdered inhalers are a type of inhaler commonly used to deliver medications such as inhaled corticosteroids into the lungs. Unlike MDIs, dry powder inhalers are breath-activated, meaning there is no propellant involved. The medication in a dry powder inhaler is released only when you take a deep, fast breath through the inhaler’s mouthpiece.
Commonly used dry powder inhalers include:
- Advair Diskus
- Pulmicort flexhaler
Dry powder inhalers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. For some, you may need to add the medication into the device before each use. Others come with a supply of medication already in them. For these types of dry powder inhalers, you need to “load” each dose of medicine each time you use the inhaler. How this is done depends on what device you are using, but will typically be as easy as turning a notch or pushing a lever.
How Are Dry Powder Inhalers Different from Regular Inhalers?
As previously mentioned, an MDI uses a chemical propellant to deliver medication into your lungs. Most of these inhalers use a propellant known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are man-made organic compounds and powerful greenhouse gases.
It can be hard to use MDIs correctly. According to the American Thoracic Society, you may only get 25% of what comes out of the MDI into your lungs. For those who have difficulty using MDIs, this number can drop to as little as 15%. This is due to the fact that many people who use MDIs have difficulty taking a breath and spraying the medicine at the same time. A common solution to this is to use a spacer, or a holding chamber, to help the medication reach your lungs. This device is an attachment that holds the medicine in place so you can breathe it in easier.
Another common solution to this problem is to switch to a breath-activated device like a dry powder inhaler. These are activated as you breathe in, which can help those who may find it difficult to breathe and spray at the same time. That said, it’s always important to talk with your doctor before switching inhalers, as a dry powder inhaler may not be right for you.
Why a Dry Powder Inhaler Could Help Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
According to an analysis of data collected by the Salford Lung Study in Asthma, patients who switched from a pressurized MDI to a dry powder inhaler cut their carbon footprints by nearly 50%, all while maintaining control of their asthma.
The study, published in the journal Thorax, closely examined the relationship between the propellants used in most MDIs and their effects on the environment. To do this, Ashley Woodcock, M.D., from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, and colleagues analyzed data from nearly 4,000 patients with asthma who were handling their condition at home and strictly reflected standard UK clinical practice.
Adults with asthma on standard maintenance therapy to regulate their symptoms were randomly allocated to either begin using a dry powder inhaler (1,081; “switch group”) or to continue using a pressurized MDI (1,151; “usual care”) for a span of 12 months.
Both the groups were matched for symptom severity and average age (49). Symptom control was evaluated at the commencement of the study, and after 12, 24, 40, and 52 weeks, using a validated test (Asthma Control Test).
What the team found was that after a year, carbon dioxide emissions for each person who had switched from an MDI to a dry powder inhaler were significantly less, as much as 50%.
What’s even more important, was that the quality of asthma care did not drop for those who switched their current treatment to a dry powder inhaler. This means that for those who switched, not only did they continue to treat their asthma effectively, but they also significantly reduced their impact on the environment. So, what’s the bottom line? Should you switch to a dry powder inhaler?
Bottom Line: Should You Switch to a Dry Powder Inhaler?
There are a few things that you should keep in mind when considering whether or not you should switch to a dry powder inhaler. The first, and most important, is that you should continue to take your respiratory medication as instructed. If you’re worried about your carbon footprint and would like to do your part for the planet, talk with your doctor to make sure that a dry powder inhaler is right for you.
The second thing you should keep in mind is that while switching to a dry powder inhaler does help cut back on your carbon footprint, that burden should not, and does not, fall unto you. Just because your condition requires a specific type of inhaler or treatment that may be harmful to the environment, does not mean that it is your job to change your ways. That burden falls on the manufacturers of these products.
The same mindset that started the save the turtle via metal straws craze back in 2015 applies here. While plastic straws are, in fact, bad for the environment, it’s not up to the consumers to save the turtles, but rather the major corporations that manufacture straws. Your health should always come first, and if switching to a dry powder inhaler isn’t right for you due to access, health concerns, money, or other reasons, that is not your fault.
All of that said, does switching to a dry powder inhaler help reduce your carbon footprint? Yes. Should you switch from an MDI? Yes, but only if it’s right for you. Researchers estimate that by replacing just one in every ten MDIs with a more environmentally friendly drug-delivery method like a dry powder inhaler, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 58 kilotonnes, and that’s just in the U.K.
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