Keep Your Service Users with COPD Safe During the Heatwave

The current heatwave has been uncomfortable for all of us, but it can pose particular dangers for service users with underlying breathing difficulties. For older people with chronic obstructive airways disease (COPD), bronchiectasis, asthma and other respiratory conditions, this type of extreme heat can quickly lead to an exacerbation of their symptoms which, if not dealt with promptly, may require hospital admission.

Factors such as dehydration, higher levels of ozone and pollutants in the atmosphere and increased humidity all contribute to breathing difficulties, so your staff should be particularly vigilant for signs of respiratory distress in hot weather. During these high-risk periods, use of inhalers may increase to combat symptoms but unless they’re used correctly, your service users may still be in danger.

Read on to discover the 5 essential steps to safe inhaler use that all your staff should know.

Safe Inhaler Technique

Factors such as poor dexterity, memory problems and a lack of support mean that older people often find it difficult to use their inhalers effectively. For those living in care homes, many are reliant on carers for their administration but unless these staff are trained and competent in their use, the benefits can be minimal.

Making sure that care staff and residents who continue to self-administer their inhalers have been trained in effective inhaler technique is essential. Adopting a simple 5-step approach can make all the difference in managing breathing difficulties this summer.

Reduce the Risks to Your Service Users with This 5 Step Approach to Safe Inhaler Technique:

 Exhale first: Exhaling creates more space in the airways and allows a longer and deeper inhalation. Breathing in more deeply allows the medication to penetrate the lungs effectively reaching deeper into the small passages.

  1. Hold the breath: If possible encourage the user to hold their breath for up to 10 seconds after each inhalation. This technique helps to keep the airways still and allows more time for the medication to reach the lungs. For people with severe breathing difficulties or those with dementia, breath holding for 10 seconds may be impossible but even a short period of holding in their breath can help.
  2. Shake before use: Unless they’re shaken properly before use, standard ‘press and breathe’ type inhalers won’t be effective. Vigorous shaking for 5 seconds will make sure that the contents are properly mixed and the correct dose is delivered.
  3. Correct timing: The user’s breath must be timed to coincide with the moment the inhaler is released. Breathing too early or too late means that the full breath is not used with the risk that part of the dose will be lost.
  4. Allow time between doses: For people with chronic breathing difficulties, taking consecutive deep breaths can be almost impossible. You should allow at least 30-60 seconds between each dose to allow time for them to recover and for the medication to reach the lungs. Remember also to shake the inhaler between doses to remix the contents.

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