Daily medications are a primary life-line for people with COPD, and a necessary part of life for people with asthma and other respiratory diseases. In fact, most COPD patients have to follow a strict treatment regimen and take several different medications every day just to keep their symptoms under control.
Of these medications, inhalers are perhaps the most important and are certainly the most frequently prescribed medications for people with asthma and COPD. Unfortunately, an alarmingly high number of patients don't use their inhalers as they should.
A major reason for this is the fact that asthma and COPD medication regimens can be complicated and difficult to keep track of. However, there's a new kind of tool available, known as smart inhaler technology, that is designed specifically to address this problem.
Smart inhalers can help you manage your medication by recording when you use your inhaler and reminding you when it's time to take the next dose. This makes it easier to remember to take your medication on time and helps you keep track of how well you adhere to your treatment schedule.
What is a Smart Inhaler?
A smart inhaler is, essentially, an inhaler that is designed to communicate with a mobile phone application. This application helps you keep track of important information like your medication schedule and when you are supposed to take your next dose.
A sensor on the inhaler communicates with the mobile application via bluetooth so you can track your inhaler use data in the app. The app records the date, time, and sometimes even the location of each dose you take, and then uses this information to schedule your next dose reminder.
Some smart inhalers use a built-in sensor that's integrated into the body of the inhaler itself. Others, like the Propeller sensor, are more versatile external sensors that you can attached to a variety of different inhalers, including ones you already have.
Smart inhaler technology is useful for monitoring how well you adhere to your treatment schedule over time and for identifying ways you can improve. It also serves as a useful tool for reminding yourself when you last took a dose and for easily tracking how frequently you use your rescue inhaler.
You also can instruct your smart inhaler app to alert you via a phone alarm or notification whenever it's time to take another dose. These digital reminders make it much easier to keep up with a consistent treatment schedule and keep your respiratory symptoms under control.
Some smart inhalers include other helpful features, such as high pollen and pollution alerts or the ability to sense if your forget to bring your inhaler with you when you leave home. As the technology continues to develop, the range of helpful tools and features available via smart inhaler technology will also continue to grow.
What Kinds of Smart Inhalers are Available?
The variety of smart inhalers on the market today is somewhat limited. However, the technology seems to be catching on, and there's sure to be a wider variety of smart inhaler sensors and applications available in the coming years.
It's important to note that most smart inhaler sensors are only approved for use with specific types of medications and inhaler types. Before choosing a sensor, you should double check the manufacturer's website and the device specifications to make sure that it will work with the types of inhalers you're prescribed as well as the type of mobile phone you use.
Here are the two most popular smart inhaler technologies that are approved for use in the US:
- Propeller Smart Inhaler: An external sensor that you can attach to a wide variety of inhalers (you can check to see if it's approved for your inhaler here). Currently available for free to most people from the Propeller website.
- Adherium Hailie Smart Inhaler: An external sensor that you can attach to the following inhalers: Ventolin, Symbicort, ProAir, and Flovent. Available from the hailie.com store.
These products are not yet available in the United States or are currently in development:
- FindAir: Currently only available to purchase in Europe, this external sensor works with more than ten different types of metered-dose rescue inhalers. You can purchase this sensor (if you live in one of the approved European countries) and check to see if it works with your inhaler by visiting their website.
- Teva ProAir: In development
- 3M Intelligent Control Inhaler: In development
Why Should People With Asthma and COPD Consider Using a Smart Inhaler?
Despite the importance of the medication, too many people with COPD and other respiratory diseases take their inhalers for granted or struggle to keep up with their daily doses. However, experts believe that smart inhaler technology can make it easier for patients to comply with treatment and keep their symptoms under control.
Your Inhaler is Your Lifeline
First of all, every person with COPD should understand how vital their inhalers are for managing their disease. Inhaled medications are quick-acting, versatile, and effective, in large part because they deliver medication directly to your lungs, and they form the cornerstone of just about every COPD treatment plan.
Most people with asthma and COPD use inhalers for both long-term symptom management and for short-term relief from breathlessness and other respiratory symptoms. When you use your inhaler as your doctor instructs you to, it can allow you to breathe better, live better, and—in the case of people with COPD—even live longer than you could without your medication.
However, better breathing and disease control isn't the only reason that medication is important. Keeping up with your treatment schedule is vital for living a healthy and fulfilling life.
When your symptoms are controlled via medication, it makes all sorts of activities easier. This includes basic tasks that are important for daily living, like cooking, cleaning, and walking to get around.
Using your inhaler as directed can also allow you to exercise better and live a more active life. This makes it easier to live a healthy lifestyle and keep your body strong, which is vital for mainting your mobility and your quality of life when you suffer from COPD.
Because of this, it's extremely important to keep up with your medications and use your inhaler exactly as your doctor instructs you to. However, while this seems simple in practice, many patients fail to use their inhalers correctly by using them improperly, inconsistently, and frequently missing doses.
Most People with COPD Do Not Use Their Inhalers As Directed
Unfortunately, an alarmingly large number of COPD patients don't use their inhaler correctly or as often as they should. This is often the result of ignorance, laziness, poor training, or a simple lack of proper diligence in keeping up with treatment.
In fact, studies show that up to 70 percent of people with COPD use improper inhaler techniques, which can significantly affect how well the medication works. Other studies estimate that only about 50 percent of people who are prescribed inhalers use them as frequently as they should.
This is important, since not using your inhaler as directed can severely affect your ability to manage your disease and your symptoms. For example, if you have COPD and don't follow your treatment plan exactly, you risk having worse symptoms, more exacerbations, and even quicker lung function loss.
Here is a list of some of the potential consequences of not adhering to your medication schedule:
- Increased risk of death
- Increased risk of quicker lung function decline (COPD)
- Increased risk for exacerbations (COPD)
- Increased risk of your medication not working
- May make it more difficult to effectively control your symptoms and manage your disease
- Makes it difficult for your doctor to evaluate your current medications and treatments accurately
Unfortunately, lackluster treatment compliance is commonplace in patients with chronic diseases like COPD who need constant, life-long treatment. It can be difficult and tiresome to adhere to a strict medication regimen for so long, which is why many people with COPD and other respiratory conditions become more careless and apathetic about about their treatment over time.
Studies also suggest that COPD patients are less likely to take their medications when they're feeling better and have fewer symptoms. However, it's not okay to skip a scheduled dose just because you feel like you don't need it; it's just as important to use your inhaler when you're feeling good as when you're feeling bad.
Many people with COPD have to manage several different types of medication at once, which is another reason why so many patients find it difficult to stick to a consistent regimen. It can be particularly difficult to manage multiple medications that vary significantly in type; for example, some COPD patients have to use supplemental oxygen, multiple kinds of inhalers, and pills you take by mouth.
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Keeping all of these different medications straight can get confusing, and it can quickly get complicated when you have to remember schedules, correct dosages, and proper technique for half a dozen different types of medicine. It can be especially difficult to cope with when you're dealing with anxiety or life gets so busy that you want to avoid anything that heaps on extra stress.
That's why smart inhaler technology has the potential to be so useful for people with asthma and COPD; it can relieve some of the logistical burden that comes with managing your health. It can keep track of your medication schedule for you and remind you to take each dose so you don't have to shoulder the responsibility alone.
In this way, experts believe that smart inhaler technology can help people with respiratory conditions better adhere to their treatment plan. With the assistance of a smart inhaler app, you're less likely to miss a dose and more likely to comply with the medication schedule that your doctor prescribes.
Taking your medication on time and as instructed is vital for preventing exacerbations, keeping your symptoms stable, and living the best life that you can. Because it can help you comply with your treatment better, using a smart inhaler may even improve how effectively your medication works to manage your disease.
Research Suggests that Smart Inhaler Technology Really Works
Experts have advocated for this kind of medication tracking technology for many years as a way to improve treatment compliance. Although the technology is still new, early research on the effectiveness of smart inhalers have come up with optimistic results.
One study from the Cleveland Clinic found that people with COPD who used the Propeller smart inhaler were significantly less likely to be hospitalized, with a 35% reduction in the number of hospital visits compared to the year before. While this study was small, including only 39 patients, the results are promising and suggest that smart inhaler technology can actually improve patients' health in addition to improving medication adherence.
Additional encouraging research comes from studies of asthma patients, including one study that looked at the Adherium Smartinhaler. This study found that patients who used the smart inhaler technology had a variety of positive health outcomes, including better medication adherence, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer doctor's visits needed.
How Smart Inhalers Can Benefit People with Asthma & COPD
Now that we've explained how smart inhaler technology can help people with asthma and COPD in general, let's take a closer look at what a smart inhaler could do for you. In the next sections, we'll discuss in more detail some of the specific benefits that smart inhaler technology has to offer.
Smart Inhalers Provide Convenient, Effortless Reminders
By working in tandem with your mobile phone, smart inhalers can send alerts to you directly through your phone. That way, you can get convenient reminders you to take your medication no mater where you are.
And because the smart inhaler records your medication schedule and the last time you took a dose, you don't even have to set the reminders yourself. The smart inhaler app can schedule your next dose and set up an automatic alert to let you know when the right time comes.
These reminders follow you wherever you go and make keeping up with your medication schedule as simple and effortless as possible. This is much more convenient, and potentially much more reliable, than keeping track of your schedule on paper or having to set manual reminders on your phone.
Smart Inhalers Can Prevent Missed or Repeated Doses
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It can be difficult to remember the last time you used your inhaler when you have to use it multiple times a day. When you do something so often and it becomes part of your daily routine, each instance tends to blur into the next it's hard to tell them apart.
This can make it difficult to remember on your own the exact time you took your last inhaler dose. It can put you in the difficult position of wondering, “Did I use my inhaler already today, or am I remembering the time I used it yesterday?”
It's especially easy to lose track when you have to use more than one inhaler, as many people with asthma and COPD have to do. You might find yourself wondering, “Did I already take my maintenance inhaler? Or was it my quick-relief inhaler that I used earlier this morning?”
Human memory just isn't very reliable, and mis-remembering your last dose could lead you to to take an extra dose on accident, or skip a dose because you falsely believe you've taken it already. This can be dangerous when you rely on your medication to help you breathe and manage your respiratory disease.
Fortunately, smart inhalers eliminate this uncertainty by automatically keeping a record of each and every time you use your inhaler. That way, you can always check the app to see when you took your last dose and remind yourself which inhalers you've already used that day.
This can be particularly useful for people with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that affects your memory and makes it difficult to remember small things like what you did this morning. Mild cognitive impairment is extremely common in people with COPD, and especially patients with severe hypoxemia (low blood oxygen levels).
Smart Inhalers Can Help Reduce Treatment-Related Anxiety
It can be extremely stressful to adhere to a strict medication regimen with multiple medications that you have to take at certain times each day. Having to keep multiple medication schedules in your head and remember things like when you last used a certain inhaler can take up a lot of mental space.
What's more, when you have a chronic disease that requires constant management, forgetting to take your medication can have serious consequences. Because of this, the fear or missing a dose or not being able to keep up with your treatment regimen can turn in to a major source of anxiety.
However, smart inhalers can help relieve some of that worry by doing some of that remembering and scheduling for you. By tracking your doses and reminding you when to use your inhaler, it can take some of that extra weight off your mind.
In this way, using a smart inhaler frees you from the need to arrange manual reminders and constantly keep your inhaler schedule in your head. This can free up mental energy for other important things in life and make your daily treatment regimen less stressful to manage.
Smart Inhalers Can Help Make Your Treatment More Effective
A large number of people who use inhalers find it difficult to take their medication consistently on their own. This leads to missed doses, doubled doses, and otherwise using your inhaler differently than your doctor recommends.
This can significantly reduce the success of your treatment and cause your medication to be less effective than it otherwise would be. Most personalized treatment plans are carefully designed to help you manage your symptoms in the best way possible, but they only work if you actually do what your treatment plan says to do.
Luckily, smart inhaler technology can help you keep track of your medications and how well you're sticking to your treatment plan. By helping you follow your medication schedule that your doctor prescribes more diligently, it can help you manage your symptoms better than before.
You and your doctor can also use to your smart inhaler app to review the full record of every single time you've used your medication, which is much more accurate than using your memory alone. This allows you to look back and see exactly where you've gone wrong and what you can do to better follow your treatment plan.
Smart inhaler technology is also a useful tool for monitoring how you use your as-needed rescue inhaler for short-term symptom relief. An accurate record of how frequently you use your rescue inhaler is valuable data you and your doctor can use to track the severity of your symptoms and watch out for when your symptoms get worse.
Some smart inhaler apps also record your location when you take a dose, which can be especially valuable for tracking your rescue inhaler use. In some cases, you may even be able to use this information to pinpoint a certain place or situation that triggers your respiratory symptoms.
All of this information can give you valuable insight about your health and your inhaler use habits that you can use to learn how to better control your symptoms. It also allows your doctor to evaluate the effectiveness of your medication more accurately and make tailored adjustments to help you better manage your disease.
If you have asthma or COPD, doing everything you can to adhere to the medication schedule your doctor gives you is essential for your health. That means knowing how to use your inhalers, when to use each inhaler, and what he correct dose for each medication is.
While this can be a lot to manage, it can be easier when you have practical tools like smart inhaler technology to give you a hand. Smart inhalers can save you a lot of time and mental energy managing your medication, freeing you up to enjoy your life without the constant worry of missing a dose.
When you take your medication properly, it can improve your symptoms, your quality of life, and your overall well-being in a number of significant ways. It can not only make it easier to breathe, but it can also help you maintain the energy and oxygen levels you need to live an active and healthy life.