Asthma is a serious condition that affects children and adults. It may be triggered by allergies, stress, exercise or other factors but the end result is always the same: A person’s bronchial tubes constrict, causing shortness of breath. This can be a serious medical emergency if it goes untreated, which is why all asthmatic people must carry a rescue inhaler. This device delivers a bronchodilator into the individual’s airway, causing the bronchial tubes to relax and breath come more easily.

Traditionally, inhalers deliver the medication Albuterol. Other medication combinations are available that may be more effective in certain situations. Some doctors recommend a combination of medications to control asthma symptoms in addition to a rescue inhaler. Improvements to medicine have increased the effectiveness of asthma treatments, but at a high cost; many inhalers are now extremely expensive due to patents, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to buy generic inhalers.

How much does an Asthma Inhaler cost?

Traditionally, an Albuterol inhaler would cost around $5 to $10, making it affordable to anyone who needed it. The newest patented formulas cost upwards of $30 to $50, and generic options are not available due to a ban by the FDA in 2008. The over-the-counter mist inhalers, which usually cost around $16, are also banned by the FDA.

Making the situation worse, some insurance companies don’t offer coverage for prescription drugs and others will only cover generic drugs. While some insurance companies will cover the cost of prescription drugs that do not have generic equivalents, many do not. This means that asthmatics and parents of asthmatic children must pay high out-of-pocket costs for life-saving medications.

Why Did the FDA Ban Generic Inhalers?

The problem with the over-the-counter inhalers is that they produce chlorofluorocarbons, aerosols which damage the environment and contribute to global climate problems by depleting the ozone layer. Many countries have joined the ban on ozone-depleting aerosols, and the products have been removed from shelves for many years. Over-the-counter inhalers are just the most recent iteration of legislature that served to remove various types of spray paint, cooking sprays and other products from the market.

Other Options

Generic asthma medications are available through nebulizers, but they are not an ideal solution for all people. First, nebulizers themselves are expensive, costing as much as $120 for the initial purchase. They’re also large and unwieldy, making them an inconvenient and even impossible choice for asthmatics outside the home. Because asthma emergencies can happen anywhere and at any time, restricting people to nebulizers could have disastrous consequences.

There is a battery-powered, hand-held nebulizer available on the market. These cost from $30 to $150 and offer a valid alternative to other asthma treatments. Once the initial purchase has been made, asthmatics can purchase a solution for the nebulizer for around $4 a month from retailers like Wal-Mart or Target. Although this option does take slightly longer to work than a rescue inhaler, it’s better than nothing.

Another option that’s available for $4 a month is a generic ipratropium solution. This drug is not as effective as Albuterol and takes much longer to become effective, as long as 45 minutes to an hour. It doesn’t work on all patients, especially children, but it is effective for certain symptoms and condition maintenance.

The good news is that the new, environmentally-friendly technologies will some day be available without a prescription. As patents expire, the technology will expand and generic companies will be able to produce low-cost asthma medication that is environmentally responsible. The first patent is due to expire in February of 2014, so people experiencing a shortage of inhalers should begin to see more options available at that point.

In the meantime, asthmatics should discuss their options with their doctor to see what can be done about obtaining affordable medication. Depending on the situation, their medication may be adjusted to have a heavier focus on controlling asthma symptoms. Ideally, a rescue inhaler should be an emergency measure rather than a long-term solution to the condition. If a patient can be effectively treated with affordable control measures and rarely requires the use of an inhaler, they should be able to cut costs regardless of the price of medication.

Many patients may also see a benefit in purchasing a nebulizer. Although the initial cost may be high, they are reusable and can be used to deliver numerous types of drugs in addition to asthma medications. They may be a valuable investment for some people.

Before making any changes to your medication, be sure to consult with your doctor. They will be able to give you suggestions and steer you in the right direction. They can also ensure that you don’t make any potentially dangerous mistakes with self-treatment. By consulting a doctor you can find the best solution to get the medication you need at a price you can afford.