Specialist wants end to OTC asthma relievers

It’s a bad idea for asthma relievers to be available over the counter, according to a respiratory specialist.

There’s “abundant” research to show patients with asthma are too dependent on short-acting beta-agonists, says Dr Simon Bowler, from Brisbane’s Mater Hospital.

“I think we should remove short-acting beta-agonists from S3, except for emergencies,” he says.

This follows a Woolcock Institute of Medical Research report that says 49% of Australians with asthma use a reliever five to seven times a week.

Specialists say using a reliever puffer more than twice a week is a sign of poorly controlled asthma.

Dr Bowler would prefer OTC relievers to be replaced with a combination product – “relatively low dose beclomethasone mixed with salbutamol”.

“That’s left field but it’s been put up at the National Asthma Strategy meeting last year.”

Dr Bowler says there is a combination product available overseas called Foster. But he suspects it would be a tough ask to get an OTC combination product through the PBS process.

Ideally, pharmacists should refuse to sell beta-agonists to patients who are not using preventers, Dr Bowler says.

However, he understands they would most likely just obtain them from another pharmacy.

Pharmacists “absolutely” should be explaining to patients that Ventolin will not heal their airways.

“Ventolin is responsible for your lungs being inflamed and unhealthy and while you may think you are getting a bit better it will actually make it worse.”

Dr Bowler is concerned that the easy access to relievers is a barrier to patients seeing a GP as there is a perception that relievers is all they need.