Background to the question
Many asthma drugs are taken by an inhaler, which deposits the drug directly into the lungs. It is important that the inhaler is taken properly, so the patient gets the most benefit. Taken properly, asthma drugs can improve symptoms and reduce attacks.
Lots of people do not use their devices correctly. This means that the drug is not delivered properly to the lungs, and as a result, asthma may not be as well controlled as it should be. People also tell us that they can have more than one type of inhaler, so it is confusing to know what to do.
We wanted to find out whether teaching people with asthma how to use their inhalers works, and whether this leads to better control of symptoms and fewer attacks. It may seem obvious, but it is important that doctors and nurses know how best to help people with asthma.
We found 29 studies involving 2210 people with asthma. Studies lasted between 2 and 26 weeks. Studies reported inhaler technique on a range of different checklists.
We grouped studies into three types: studies testing enhanced face-to-face training session(s), studies using multi-media to deliver inhaler training (e.g. a video, computer app or game) and studies testing devices that give people visual or audio feedback about technique.
Studies tested different types of training and used different measures to gauge success, meaning that we could not bring data together. This was particularly true when we tried to assess effects on asthma attacks, adverse events, visits to a healthcare provider and absences from work or school.
Both face-to-face and multi-media inhaler training improved inhaler technique in most studies, although results varied depending on how and when each technique was assessed.
Some studies reported the number of people who had correct or 'good enough' technique. More people had correct or 'good enough' technique after face-to-face training and with feedback devices. But the benefit of multi-media training for adults was uncertain.
Interventions that provide inhaler training may bring some benefit for quality of life and asthma control among adults and children, but results were varied and studies were small.
Children may receive some benefit but results tended to be less clear for children because fewer and smaller studies have included children as participants.
Quality of the evidence
For studies like these, it is not possible to blind people to their assigned group. This may bias how people behave or respond to questionnaires, which reduced our confidence in the findings. We were uncertain about other results because studies did not provide enough data to show clear benefit.
We cannot say for sure what is the best way to help people learn how to use their inhaler properly. It is important that patients understand how their inhaler works, so they should ask their doctor or nurse for help.
We also use Cochrane Reviews to make suggestions for future research. We suggest that trials should last longer than six months and should report adherence information. The most useful information reported was the number of people who had 'good enough' inhaler technique, so we urge future trials to report this as well.
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