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.
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.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Instititute: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma
- American Family Physician: Safety of Long-Acting Beta Agonists in Adults with Asthma
- Primary Care Respiratory Journal: The Properties of Inhaled Corticosteroids - Similarities and Differences
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: Asthma Treatment and Management
- Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine: Clinical Implications of the Intrinsic Efficacy of Beta-Adrenoceptor Drugs in Asthma - Full, Partial and Inverse Agonism
- British Journal of Pharmacology: New Perspectives Regarding β2-Adrenoceptor Ligands in the Treatment of Asthma
- Respiratory Medicine: The Dose-Response Characteristics of Inhaled Corticosteroids When Used to Treat Asthma - An Overview of Cochrane Systematic Reviews