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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 02:08 GMT
'Easy' inhaler hope for asthmatics
Traditional inhaler
Millions of people use inhalers to treat asthma
Scientists have devised a type of inhaler which they say is easier for asthmatics to use correctly.

Conventional inhalers need the user to "press and breathe" at exactly the same time in order to receive the full dose.

In the K-Haler, designed by researchers from Hampshire, the release of the drug is triggered by the user breathing in.

Its makers hope the device, which won the Medical Futures award for best innovation to improve patient care, will become the standard device used by asthmatics.

About five million people in Britain suffer from asthma.

Across the world, 500m people use the traditional "press and breathe" pressurised metered dose inhalers.

For the device to work effectively, the user has to press down the canister on the inhaler at exactly the same time as they breathe in.

We know that some inhaler devices are difficult to use
National Asthma Campaign spokeswoman
Research has shown that about 70% find it difficult to co-ordinate the movements, so they are not effectively treating their condition.

This can mean patients are prescribed dose increases and extra medication which they would not need if they were able to feel the full benefits from their inhaler.

Alternatives have been developed but they have been expensive and clumsy to use.

Crucial kink

The K-Haler, devised by pharmacist John Bell and clinical scientist Dr Ray Bacon, is triggered by the user's breath. This means the drug is delivered as the user inhales.

The scientists estimate the breath-actuated inhaler could be manufactured at around a tenth of the cost of current devices. It is also environmentally friendly because it is made entirely from recyclable plastic.

They say it may be available in as little as 18 months.

The key difference in the K-Haler is a kink built into the device, based on the same principle as the kink in a drinking straw.

The drug, held in the first kink of the K-valve, is only released when the K-valve in straightened, in the same way that a drink can only be sucked up a straw once the kink is straightened.

Because the drug is inhaled in the first part of the inhaled air, it penetrates deep into the airways to treat the patients' asthma.

A study published last year showed the use breath-actuated inhalers halved the prescribing of extra antibiotics and steroids to asthmatics, when compared with the use of traditional "press and breathe" inhalers,

Replacement hope

Mr Bell told BBC News Online: "At the moment, patients may be prescribed a standard inhaler and be on it for a month or two before the doctor decides there has been no improvement and decides to up the dose."

He said the more reliable delivery method of the K-Haler would mean such unnecessary dose increases should not happen.

Dr Bacon said: "Clinicians have intuitively accepted the co-ordination problem with pressurised inhalers but it is only very recently that research has begun to provide clinical data.

"We really hope that the finished product will lead to the more effective management of asthma among the millions it affects."


A spokeswoman for the National Asthma Campaign told BBC News Online: "K-Haler represents another alternative for people with asthma.

"We know that some inhaler devices are difficult to use, for example, because of the co-ordination required between releasing the medication and breathing in, to get the correct dose.

"Whatever device is prescribed, it is important that people with asthma are happy with their chosen device and are shown how to use it properly by their GP or nurse."

Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, group medical director of Bupa, which sponsored the award, said the inhaler stood out as a simple but innovative idea.

"We were really struck by its ability to make a significant contribution to the management of the millions affected by asthma nationwide."

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