NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Six and a half million children in the United States suffer from asthma and use inhalers to keep their airways open, but most kids aren’t using them correctly, dramatically affecting how well the medication works.

For 10-year-old Amanda Grabel, her asthma was so severe, it became life threatening. Desperate for a solution, her parents took her to several doctors who kept writing more and more prescriptions, CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

“It was very frustrating, and they just kept throwing more medicine, and none of it helped,” she said.

“She was afraid to go to sleep at night because she was afraid she was going to die,” Amanda’s mother, Rori Grabel, said.

Finally, the Grabels found doctor B.J. Lanser, a specialist at National Jewish Health in Denver, who had a simple solution.

It turns out, Amanda had the right medicine, but she was taking it wrong.

“We see children who just don’t know how to use it at all, and so they take breaths in a totally different way that doesn’t help get it into the lungs, which is where the medicine needs to go,” he said.

In fact, Lanser said most children he sees use inhalers incorrectly.

He said the biggest mistake is not using a spacer. Without it, about 80 percent of the medicine settles in the mouth and never gets into the lungs.

Lanser also said many children don’t realize that exhaling is just as important as inhaling.

“Take some normal breaths and then a big, deep breath to fully exhale so that you then have empty lungs to take a nice big, deep breath to get all the medicine deep into the lungs,” he said.

Other common mistakes involve how the inhalers is positioned.

Kids should stand up straight when using inhalers, with their head in a neutral position, not tipped back. Aim the inhaler at the back of the throat and close the lips tightly around the mouthpiece to keep medication from escaping.

After learning the proper technique, and practicing it, Amanda perfected her inhaler use and is back to being herself.

“I feel like I don’t have asthma anymore. I do, but it feels like I don’t,” she said.

If your child’s asthma isn’t well controlled, make sure they’re using their inhaler correctly before you start adding medicine they might not actually need. Also, make sure your child is treated by an asthma specialist.


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