Resources & publications

2nd May 2017

New Inhaler Standards website launched

A new interactive new website has been launched to raise awareness of the importance of accurate inhaler technique with healthcare professionals.

The free-to-access site promotes the UK Inhaler Group’s (UKIG) Inhaler Standards and Competency Document. It can be viewed here

UKIG developed the standards in response to its concerns that people are still unable to use their devices properly and many healthcare professionals are unable to assist people effectively to optimise their technique. The standards set out how healthcare professionals can work with patients to maximise the benefit of their inhaled medication.

The UKIG Inhaler Standards website has been developed in partnership with the leading educational charity Education for Health, an expert in developing innovative online learning solutions.

UKIG member Jane Scullion, who is a Respiratory Nurse Consultant and lead author of the standards document, said:

“We are excited to launch this new site on World Asthma Day.

“Using an inhaler is the most common and effective way to take respiratory medications and remains the cornerstone for treating airways diseases such as asthma and COPD.

“Correct inhaler use is fundamental to improving outcomes in asthma and COPD. Healthcare professionals need to know it, show it, teach it and review.

“We are delighted that Education for Health, one of our members, has created this excellent resource for us that will help to spread the word about UKIG’s inhaler standards and, in turn, improve outcomes for many people with respiratory disease.”


3rd November 2016

New paper released: Blue inhalers save lives – standard colour needed to prevent asthma deaths

Patients’ lives could be put at risk if pharmaceutical companies stray away from the widely recognised colour coding of inhalers used to treat asthma.

That’s according to UK Inhaler Group (UKIG), which has published the findings of its survey of 3,000 health care professionals and patients. The survey sought to determine the importance of coloured labelling on inhalers used in the treatment of asthma and COPD.

Now the group is calling for an official colour-code system for inhalers to prevent possible confusion over which inhaler to use in emergencies, which it says could put patients’ lives at risk.

The survey of 2,127 patients with asthma and COPD and 596 healthcare professionals, is published today (3 Nov) in npj Primary Care Respiratory Medicine.

 ‘Reliever’ inhalers, the ones used in an emergency for instant relief, are traditionally coloured blue. The survey revealed 89 per cent of patients and 95 per cent of healthcare professionals frequently refer to the colour when discussing reliever medication.

However, this remains an unofficial colour-coding system. With the increase in inhaler types available, there is concern that blue may be used for inhalers not designed for emergency relief, and other colours used for quick relief medications. UKIG is concerned this could mean patients reach for the wrong inhaler in an emergency.

Comments from patients who took part in the survey included:

“My seven year old knows the blue one is for when I am having an attack. It’s useful to tell people I need the blue one and quicker therefore to get the medicine I need.”

 “I am visually impaired and rely very much on the colour of my inhalers. It’s also great to be able to say to my kids please fetch my blue inhaler for example and know they get the right one.”

Lead Author Monica Fletcher, CEO of UK charity Education for Health and Chair of the UKIG, said: “In an acute emergency, inhalers that work rapidly to open up the airways are lifesaving, particularly for asthma.

“With a range of inhalers and new treatments available, it is vitally important for not only patients but their families and carers such as schoolteachers to know which one to use in an emergency. Our survey revealed that it is important to know what medications people take, but definition by colour is by far the preferred way to do this and could save lives.”

Over the last two years two pharmaceutical companies that had planned to change the proposed colour of new inhalers and break this ‘unofficial convention’ decided not to after considerable lobbying from the group. UKIG is calling for all interested parties to agree a formal industry-wide approach to colour coding so that in the future it would not be possible for a blue inhaler to obtain a licence unless it is a reliever and inhalers not for rapid symptom relief will not be licensed if they are blue.

Fletcher added: “These results highlight the importance of colour and add to the debate about the need to formalise the colour coding of inhaled therapies. In particular, they show the need for using the colour blue for inhalers for rapid relief of symptoms.

“We believe this survey should provide the impetus for all interested parties to discuss and agree a formal industry-wide approach to colour coding of inhaled therapies for the benefit of patients, carers and healthcare professionals.”

Dr Duncan Keeley, GP in Thame and policy lead for the Primary Care Respiratory Society UK, said clear communication is important if clinicians and patients are going to work together to ensure the patient's lung condition is as well controlled as possible.

He explained: “With so many different compounds in inhalers, and patients often having more than one inhaler, referring to inhalers by their colour is obviously very helpful. And it also helps the people around the patient to know that the blue inhaler is the one that needs to be used in an emergency. So this is about safety - in a real emergency, when someone is struggling for breath, it is important that there is no room for confusion about which inhaler will have a rapid effect to relieve symptoms.”

Toby Capstick, Lead Respiratory Pharmacist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “There are a wide range of inhalers available for the treatment of asthma and COPD.  Our survey has shown that patients rely on the colour of their inhalers to identify them rather than their names, which may be difficult to remember or pronounce.

 “There was a strong opinion across patients and healthcare professionals that the blue colour is important to identify reliever inhalers, so that they and friends or family can retrieve them in an emergency. However, there are also concerns that if blue colouring is used for preventer inhalers, which are taken regularly to control asthma and COPD, that this could cause patients to accidentally overuse their preventer inhalers potentially resulting in significant side effects.”

Read the full paper on Nature.