Use of Ethanol in Rescue Inhalers
The majority of currently marketed rescue inhalers contain ethanol, or drinking alcohol, although in very small amounts. Its purpose lies within its role as a solvent, and it plays a very important role to ensure the propellant does its job well. Propellant is basically a substance that allows the contents of an inhaler to be sprayed in the form of a fine mist, allowing the person to breathe the medication in a lot easier, and enabling more rapid delivery of beneficial effects. The contents of any pressurized inhaler will consist of a propellant and a medical solution, designed for a particular purpose; in case of quick-relief inhalers, this substance is albuterol, which allows to suppress any acute symptoms of an asthma attack.
The most common type of propellant is called Hydro Fluoro Alkane, or HFA, and most brands of rescue inhalers using this type of propellant do contain ethanol. The previous generation of pressurized inhalers used a different type of propellant (CFC, or ChloroFluoroCarbon), and was determined to be dangerous to the environment (particularly to the ozone layer), resulting in a country-wide ban for these types of drugs in 2008. As the case stands, since the prohibition on CFC-based inhalers, almost every rescue inhaler used in the US assumes HFA as its main propellant. In most cases, manufacturers of these drugs do not clearly state the fact that their product does or does not contain ethanol - when you buy ProAir HFA online, for example, or purchase it from a local store, it is unlikely that you will be informed of its alcohol content.
The main reason for this malpractice is a semi-medical explanation that states: the amount of ethanol used in these drugs is extremely small, not enough to produce any type of intoxication by itself.
Although true in most cases, this fact may still prove to be hazardous for patients with certain medical conditions. Currently, one of the only available rescue inhalers that does not contain ethanol is Ventolin, making it one of the most popular emergency asthma medication used in the US (that, and the fact that it has become possible to buy Ventolin HFA online). Other products such as ProAir or Proventil, do contain traces of ethanol, possibly making them less preferable for certain patients. The main reasons for that will be explained in the next section.
Reasons for Aversion of Ethanol
The amount of ethanol used in rescue inhalers by itself is too small to affect most people in any way, but there are, however, several exceptions that may make any amount of alcohol to be dangerous or simply unacceptable for certain people:
- Heightened sensitivity to ethanol - certain asthma patients may in some cases actually feel worse after using a rescue inhaler that contains ethanol, since it may act as an external irritant by itself. Fortunately, from the medical point of view, such cases are tremendously rare;
- Alcohol intolerance - some people may instantly feel several symptoms of intolerance right after using an inhaler that contains ethanol, experiencing such effects as nasal congestion and skin flushing. Most of the time however, only extreme cases of ethanol intolerance may prove dangerous enough to produce any form of adverse reaction;
- Religious beliefs - most religions tend to prohibit the practice of alcohol ingestion in any form (during certain periods of time, at the very least), making its acceptance, even in minute amounts, to be intolerable;
- Personal aversion - it is no surprise that certain individuals will want to remove any traces of alcohol from any products they use, possibly from past alcoholism problems or simply out of personal dislike.
If you feel that you do not wish to use an inhaler that contains ethanol, you should contact your doctor and discuss the possibility of replacing your current prescription with an alternate type of medication that will be appropriate for you. Alternatively, you can simply buy Ventolin HFA online, since it does not contain ethanol. Note that Ventolin uses different substances to replace the alcohol, which may in rare cases produce allergic reaction in certain patients.