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Long-Term Effects of Overuse of an Inhaler for Asthma

author image Tanya Feke
Tanya Feke is a board-certified family physician with interests in preventive medicine, lifestyle modification and women's health. Her book "Medicare Essentials" is an Amazon bestseller. She has been published in the journal "Medical Economics" and has managed her educational website Diagnosis Life (www.diagnosislife.com) since 2010.
Long-Term Effects of Overuse of an Inhaler for Asthma
A young girl using an inhaler outdoors. Photo Credit moodboard/moodboard/Getty Images

Many prescription medications are available to treat your asthma. Overusing certain inhaler medications by taking them more often than prescribed can pose risks to your health. If you are overusing your inhaler because of frequent or persistent symptoms, your asthma may not be well-controlled. Rather than taking your medicine more often than prescribed, talk with doctor so she can adjust your medications to better control your symptoms.

Ongoing Side Effects

Rescue inhalers are prescribed for use every 4 to 6 hours only when needed to control sudden asthma symptoms -- which should occur fewer than 2 days per week if your asthma is well-controlled. When taken too often, the medication can build up in your system and cause ongoing side effects, such as anxiety, nervousness, dizziness, headache, nausea and a dangerously rapid or irregular heartbeat. Overuse can also cause a low blood potassium, potentially leading to muscle weakness or spasms if your level is very low.

Poor Asthma Control

Inhalers containing a type of medicine called a beta agonist reduce muscle spasms in your airways to relieve or prevent asthma symptoms. When you overuse these inhalers -- especially those intended for quick relief, such a albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin) -- your lungs may get used to the medication and become less responsive to treatment. This can make your asthma harder to control. With controller inhalers containing a long-acting beta agonist, overuse may make your lungs hypersensitive and more likely to become inflamed or narrow when faced with common asthma triggers such as cold temperatures, allergens or an infection.

Steroid Effects

Inflammation in your lungs is an important contributing factor to asthma. Inhalers containing a steroid medication are often prescribed to reduce this inflammation and reduce your asthma symptoms. However, inhaled steroids can cause long-term side effects -- especially if they are used more often than prescribed. Overuse may increase your risk for hoarseness or another change in your voice. Overusing inhalers that contain steroids also increases the amount of the medication absorbed by your body, potentially leading to increased risk for osteoporosis, moodiness, easy bruising, adult acne and, in children, decreased growth rate.

When to Call Your Doctor

Your risk for long-term side effects increases when you do not take your asthma medications as prescribed. Overusing inhalers can make them less effective and even worsen your asthma. Your doctor will help you understand how your medications work and discuss what risks are associated with each of them.

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