Millions of asthmatics could be taking their medication incorrectly, according to a leading pharmacist.
Many are unsure about when or how to use inhalers, which reduces their effectiveness and can be a health risk.
The level of public confusion came to light as a result of the new Boots Asthma Inhaler Check, part of the High Street chemist's NHS-funded Medicines Check-Up scheme launched last summer. The free nationwide service is designed to help patients use long-term prescription drugs properly.
During a 15-minute in-store check, a pharmacist helps with inhaler technique and reviews whether the right drug has been prescribed to suit individual needs. Patients are also offered help in identifying triggers that make their asthma worse.
More than five million individuals in the UK receive treatment for asthma. Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers says: 'When a patient is diagnosed, there is a lot of information to take in, which can be misunderstood or forgotten. We have found that nine out of ten patients are not using their inhaler properly.'
Asthma causes the airways in the lungs to become inflamed and swollen, often as a reaction to certain irritants. Common triggers include dust mites, animal fur, pollen, tobacco smoke and cold air. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing and tightness in the chest.
Inhalers used to treat asthma fall broadly into two categories - reliever medicines that are used during an attack and regular preventative therapy to stop attacks from happening. A second regular inhaler may be given to those with severe asthma.
'We found patients either breathe in too fast or not strongly enough,' explains Chalmers. 'If individuals can't alter their technique, we can speak to their GP about finding a different medicine.'
A study at Belfast City Hospital published last month revealed 35 per cent of asthmatics used half or less of their prescribed medication, and 21 per cent used more than prescribed.