With one in five households affected by asthma, it’s a condition worth talking about. Asthma affects the airways, the small tubes which carry air in and out of the lungs. These tubes narrow when the sufferer comes into contact with irritants, causing them to feel short of breath. Asthma is conventionally treated with salbutamol-containing blue inhalers, and beclometasone-containing brown inhalers. But are there any side effects associated with these common treatments?
Any medication carries a small risk of side effects. However, every medicine that is made available to the public will have undergone clinical trials, to check that it provides benefits that outweigh the risk of problems. It is important to understand the potential side effects of your medicine, and to follow treatment advice.
Blue inhalers containing salbutamol
Salbutamol is used in blue relief inhalers. These are fast working, relieving symptoms in minutes, and so it is very important that asthma sufferers carry one at all times. Salbutamol’s primary function is to relax muscles in the air passages of the lungs, making it easier to breathe.
There is a minimal chance of experiencing side effects when taking a relief inhaler as prescribed. However some side effects have been recorded. The most common side effect of salbutamol is tremors, with one in ten people experiencing symptoms. Less frequent symptoms, with one in a hundred people affected are increased heart rate, palpitations, headaches and muscle cramps.
At the lower end of the spectrum rare symptoms include feelings of muscle tension, heart problems, hyperactivity, metabolic problems, vasodilatation of the extremities, hypersensitivity reactions, lowered blood pressure, and collapse. However it should be repeated that these are very rare.
Brown inhalers containing beclometasone
Beclometasone is a form of steroid frequently used in brown preventative inhalers. Preventative inhalers work over a long period of time, reducing the sensitivity and swelling of the airways, and reducing the chance of serious asthma attacks.
At a lower dosage preventative inhalers are relatively safe, as they head straight to the air ways with very little of the medication being absorbed into the rest of the body.
However there is a slightly increased risk of side effects when using preventative inhalers. These side effects can include a sore tongue, hoarseness of voice, and a mouth infection called thrush. The likelihood of developing these symptoms can be reduced by rinsing out your mouth and brushing your teeth after using your preventative inhaler. Using a spacer can also help reduce the risk of oral thrush.
There is a chance that high-dosage use of preventative inhalers can have longer term effects, and cause more serious problems associated with steroids. These include a very slight increased risk of developing cataracts in elderly people who have inhaled steroids. Children should also be monitored carefully, especially for growth.
The most important thing to remember is to follow your doctor’s advice and take your medicine as instructed. Your GP will have paid careful attention to the risk versus benefit argument, and should be using the lowest dose necessary to control your condition.
If you have any concerns about your health contact your GP or asthma nurse. Asthma UK is also a useful resource where you can find out more about asthma and its treatments.