Inhalers used to treat coronavirus causing shortage for asthma sufferers, experts say

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology is warning asthma sufferers that the novel coronavirus is causing a shortage of albuterol inhalers.

Albuterol opens the air passages in the lungs and is commonly used to treat asthma as well as cough, wheezing and shortness of breath, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Now, it’s being used to treat COVID-19 and the ACAAI is telling asthma sufferers to expect shortages.

Nearly 25 million people in the United States have asthma, according to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The shortage is occurring because of the increased use of albuterol inhalers in hospitals for COVID-19 and suspected COVID-19 patients to help with respiratory issues,” the ACAAI said in a news release.

Only “certain parts of the country” are experiencing shortages, the college said in the March 20 release, but they’re expected to spread throughout the U.S.

Typically, hospital doctors use nebulizers, not inhalers, but there’s concern that nebulizers would aerosolize the virus along with the medicine, making COVID-19 spread more easily in hospitals, ABC News reported.

Ilisa Bernstein with the American Pharmacists Association told ABC the organization is “deeply concerned” about the shortage.

GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest albuterol manufacturers, told ABC it’s “proactively assessing existing contingency plans, which include increasing production.”

In the meantime, if you or your child is having trouble getting an albuterol inhaler, the ACAAI recommends the following:

  • Don’t panic and check your inhaler to ensure it still has medicine.

  • Use an expired inhaler if necessary “as it is probably still at least partially effective.”

  • Reach out to your doctor about other courses of action if refilling your metered dose inhaler isn’t an option.

  • Do not overuse your inhaler (a canister should last months).

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