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When it comes to asthma, the choice is clear about what treatment options patients can take to get better. Asthma inhalers are usually filled with corticosteroids but there are some significant risks and benefits that you need to know before you inhale.

Asthma is a very real possibility to consider when a patient comes to the clinic presenting with symptoms of difficulty breathing and wheezing. These signs of asthma are only some of the several options that doctors need to watch out for. A family history and a history of when and where you may have problems breathing can point to this disease more directly. Chest X-rays can be irregular as well and patients have been known to have suspicious densities on the lungs in cases of severe asthma. Asthma can be treated by inhalers but they come with their own cascade of side effects that can make an effective treatment elusive. Here, we will explore some of the risks and benefits of asthma inhalers. 

The Benefits of Asthma Inhalers 

Inhalers are the mainstay of therapy when it comes to trying to treat asthma outbreaks. They are generally a combination of long-acting B-blockers and inhaled glucocorticosteroids in order to help open the airways so patients can breathe more effectively. The main advantage of this type of inhaled preparation is that it will be quick-acting. Patients who are experiencing dyspnea will have to only wait a matter of seconds before the drugs are able to influence their effect on the body. [1]

Inhaled steroids not only have a fast onset of action, they are also beneficial for patients who need to have their immune system suppressed. Asthma is caused by a hyper-reaction of the body to inhaled particles that normally do not trigger a response in healthy individuals. These steroids are able to mute the response of the immune system so patients will be able to carry on without too much distress. [2]

In one study done to determine the effectiveness of steroids on the treatment of asthma, pediatric patients were either given inhaled steroids, oral steroids or a placebo and the results of how often they needed to go to the hospital for flare-ups of the disease was documented. At the conclusion of the study, it was determined that there was no statistical difference between taking oral or inhaled versions of the steroid medication but both had a significant difference between them and placebos in terms of hospital visits. Without a doubt, steroids are a necessary addition to asthma therapy in order to reduce the number of flare-ups of the disease. [3]

The Risks of Asthma Inhalers 

One of the first disadvantages is that patients may present with a number of symptoms ranging from a mild form to a severe form of the disease and the chest X-ray may be inconclusive. In more mild cases of the disease, it is quite likely that a patient may not even have obvious signs on their Chest X-ray examination. It is likely that the lung will look completely healthy on imaging studies so it will be inconclusive at best if patients still have symptoms. What a radiologist may see as well would be an appearance on the chest X-ray that looks eerily similar to a sign of a lung infection like pneumonia. Doctors will have a hard time differentiating between asthma and a more severe form of pneumonia based solely on a chest X-ray so additional tests will be necessary. This will at least help doctors rule out blockages due to foreign objects or actual pneumonia infections so it will be a necessary examination. [4]

Another obvious disadvantage of asthma inhalers in the treatment of the disease can be traced back to the mechanism of action of any steroid medication. It will actually change the genetics of your receptors so the offending agents do not trigger the same response. [5] An unfortunate truth that happens when you are taking this medication is that your immune system will be reduced totally so other infections can be caught during the time of therapy. Patients who also have diseases that can manifest during times of a weakened response can be at risk for infections like Tuberculosis and any of the fungi that we have already covered in our investigation of suspicious densities on the lungs like Histoplasmosis, Blastomycosis, and Coccidioidomycosis

The last risk that I will cover in our assessment of the risks and benefits of asthma inhalers would be the most damaging to your long-term health. Chronic use of inhaled and oral corticosteroids have been proven to lead to a degeneration of bones at a rate much quicker than what is typically seen in healthy individuals. This means that these patients are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis at a younger age compared to patients not taking this medication. It is an unfortunate trade-off that patients must decide between. Thankfully, there are potential treatment options for osteoporosis like pain management or joint replacement surgery to try to reduce the discomfort a patient may face. [6]

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