Guest essay by Eric Worrall
According to The Conversation, people who use asthma inhalers release damaging amounts of greenhouse gasses.
Your asthma puffer is probably contributing to climate change, but there’s a better alternative
March 26, 2018 6.01am AEDT
Senior Lecturer in General Practice, University of Western Australia
I breathe all the way out. There’s a quiet puff of gas from my inhaler, and I breathe all the way in. I hold my breath for a few seconds and the medicine is where it needs to be: in my lungs.
Many readers with asthma or other lung disease will recognise this ritual. But I suspect few will connect it with climate change. Until recently, neither did I.
In metered dose inhalers, the medicine and a pressurised propellant liquid are mixed together in a little canister, and then sprayed out of the inhaler in a measured puff of fine mist. This is inhaled, often after passing through a “spacer” which allows more of the medicine to reach the lungs. While the medicine is absorbed by the body, the propellant, now a gas, is exhaled unchanged.
The one most often found in asthma metered dose inhalers, norflurane, is 1,430 times more potent than the best-known warming culprit, carbon dioxide. Another, apaflurane, is 3,220 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
A person using a preventer inhaler monthly, plus the odd reliever inhaler, could easily release the annual equivalent of a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide — that’s like burning 100 litres of petrol.
If metered dose inhalers are a better choice for you, please don’t panic or quit your medicines. These gases probably won’t be the biggest contributor to your personal carbon footprint. Asthma control is really important, and these medicines work really well. But consider changing if it’s an option for you — when it comes to reducing our footprint, every little bit counts.
As a lifelong asthmatic I’m familiar with different inhalers. I can tolerate the powder inhalers, but I know people who can’t – powder inhalers can irritate the airways. It would be unfortunate and harmful if this stretch of a climate warning develops into a movement to ban HFC propellent in asthma inhalers, or makes such inhalers more difficult to obtain or more expensive.