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An inhaler or puffer is a medical device used for delivering medication into the body via the lungs. It is mainly used in the treatment of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Zanamivir (Relenza), used to treat influenza, must be administered via inhaler. To reduce deposition in the mouth and throat, and to reduce the need for precise synchronization of the start of inhalation with actuation of the device, MDIs are sometimes used with a complementary spacer or holding chamber device.
MDI — The most common type of inhaler is the pressurized metered-dose inhaler (MDI). In MDIs, medication is most commonly stored in solution in a pressurized canister that contains a propellant, although it may also be a suspension. The MDI canister is attached to a plastic, hand-operated actuator. On activation, the metered-dose inhaler releases a fixed dose of medication in aerosol form. The correct procedure for using an MDI is to first fully exhale, place the mouth-piece of the device into the mouth, and having just started to inhale at a moderate rate, depress the canister to release the medicine. The aerosolized medication is drawn into the lungs by continuing to inhale deeply before holding the breath for 10 seconds to allow the aerosol to settle onto the walls of the bronchial and other airways of the lung.
DPI — Dry powder inhalers release a metered or device-measured dose of powdered medication that is inhaled through a DPI device.
Nebulizers — supply the medication as an aerosol created from an aqueous formulation.
In 1968, Robert Wexler of Abbott Laboratories developed the Analgizer, a disposable inhaler that allowed the self-administration of methoxyflurane vapor in air for analgesia. The Analgizer consisted of a polyethylene cylinder 5 inches long and 1 inch in diameter with a 1 inch long mouthpiece. The device contained a rolled wick of polypropylene felt which held 15 milliliters of methoxyflurane. Because of the simplicity of the Analgizer and the pharmacological characteristics of methoxyflurane, it was easy for patients to self-administer the drug and rapidly achieve a level of conscious analgesia which could be maintained and adjusted as necessary over a period of time lasting from a few minutes to several hours. The 15 milliliter supply of methoxyflurane would typically last for two to three hours, during which time the user would often be partly amnesic to the sense of pain; the device could be refilled if necessary. The Analgizer was found to be safe, effective, and simple to administer in obstetric patients during childbirth, as well as for patients with bone fractures and joint dislocations, and for dressing changes on burn patients. When used for labor analgesia, the Analgizer allows labor to progress normally and with no apparent adverse effect on Apgar scores. All vital signs remain normal in obstetric patients, newborns, and injured patients. The Analgizer was widely utilized for analgesia and sedation until the early 1970s, in a manner that foreshadowed the patient-controlled analgesia infusion pumps of today. The Analgizer inhaler was withdrawn in 1974, but use of methoxyflurane as a sedative and analgesic continues in Australia and New Zealand in the form of the Penthrox inhaler.
In 2009, the FDA banned the use of inhalers that utilize chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) as propellants for hydrofluorocarbons (HFA) inhalers; HFA is not environmentally inert as a greenhouse gas but does not affect the ozone layer. While some asthma sufferers and advocacy groups contend that the latter are not as effective, published clinical studies indicate equivalent control of asthma is achieved with use of HFA inhalers. Inhalers used to treat asthma contains dry powder spin inhalers and aerosoles containing suspending liquid medicament, but in both the cases the size of suspended particles or powder particles must be less than 5 micrometres so as to increase the surface area and deliver the drug to the inner most areas. Such a sufficiently small size of particles is necessary for dispersion and also for rapid action.
While the impact of CFC of inhalers on the ozone layer had been minuscule, the FDA in its interpretation of the Montreal Protocol mandated the switch in propellants. Patients expressed concern about the high price of the HFA inhalers as there is no generic version, which had been available in the CFC inhalers for many years. The elimination of generics from the market led to a price increase in inhalers that is expected to cost American consumers, insurances and the government about $8 billion by 2017.
The largest manufacturers of inhalers are GlaxoSmithKline (makers of the Advair Discus (a DPI), Merck, AstraZeneca (makers of Pulmicort and Symbicort) and Boehringer-Ingelheim (makers of Atrovent, Combivent, and Spiriva). BI, GSK, Merck, and AstraZeneca manufacture the medication being delivered via inhaler. However, 3M Drug Delivery Systems does some of the finished product manufacturing, as they are one of the leaders of MDI canisters, metering valves and other components.