Watch Your Inhaler Counters!

As asthmatics, we have a lot to keep track of. Our symptoms, flare-ups, triggers, peak flows, medications, rescue inhaler usage and the list goes on and on.

I am a planner. I need to write things down and make lists to keep my brain organized. I also keep an asthma journal where I track things like asthma symptoms and flare-ups and questions I want to ask and things I want to discuss so I can have everything in one place when I have my appointments with my Pulmonologist.

The countdown on an inhaler

One thing that is very important to keep track of is the countdown counter on your inhalers. Almost all inhalers nowadays have them. They are quite handy! It will tell you how many doses you have left before the inhaler is empty. Even if the metered dose inhaler feels like there might still contain some medicine when the counter is at zero, chances are almost certainly what’s left is merely propellant and not any actual medication. Back many years ago before the propellant changed to HFA (hydrofluoroalkane, a propellant), you might remember floating the metered dose inhaler canisters in water to see how much was left in them but that won’t do you any good now. With dry powder inhalers, once the counter is at zero, that’s it and it won’t turn anymore. Long before your counter gets to zero it’s a good idea to give your pharmacy a call to get a refill requested.

For the inhalers that do not have dose counters, I would recommend asking your pharmacist how many doses are contained within that particular inhaler. Sometimes inhalers come in different sizes and in that case the number of doses could vary widely. What can get tricky is keeping track of how many puffs you take. Try to keep track the best you can. Whether that is keeping a tally going in the notes section on your phone or in a notebook or journal. Yes, you will notice when the canister of metered dose inhaler starts to get lighter when you shake it but this really isn’t a good indicator.
What I try to do but in reality doesn’t always happen is, I try to get all of my daily medications on the same monthly refill schedule. It’s really nice when it works out and I can pick them all up at once but I think we can all relate when things get switched up and I find myself making multiple trips to the pharmacy a month.

Setting a reminder

Something I found to be very useful when it came to remembering to refill my medications is to set a reminder on my phone as to when I should be calling in my refills. Some pharmacies even have automatic refill programs where they will automatically refill prescriptions every month and just call me when they are ready to be picked up. Others will even refill several months at a time which is even more convenient. Remember that there can be lag times when sending in for a refill especially if the pharmacy has to order your medication. This can even happen sometimes for the most common rescue inhalers if a lot of people are refilling them on the same day. Keeping track of those little counters can save you the frustration and fear of running out and not having a backup when you are struggling to breathe.

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