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What is a CFC Inhaler?

By Katy Brackett
Updated Jan 23, 2024
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A chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) inhaler is a device that works to relieve breathing and airway conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) by delivering a measured dose of medication that the user can inhale. The active ingredient in inhalers is albuterol, and CFC is used as a propellant to deliver the albuterol. The use of CFC inhalers has been targeted for reduction or elimination because of the effects CFC can have on the environment, particularly the ozone layer. The change to non-CFC inhalers has been a source of controversy and debate.

An inhaler is a small cylindrical tube that holds a cartridge and has a nozzle and a mouthpiece on one end. The user puts the mouthpiece in his or her mouth and pushes down on the cartridge, which activates the nozzle, spraying the inhalant into the person's mouth and throat. The patient breathes in deeply while doing so, which allows him or her to receive the medication.

CFC, the type of propellant used to deliver the medication, is also known as Freon® and is used for refrigeration, propellants and solvents. During an international convention in 1987, the use of CFCs and other chemicals was targeted to be reduced or eliminated because of their effects on the ozone layer. The treaty that was signed is known as the Montreal Protocol, and it has been revised more than half a dozen times since the convention.

It is because of this international ruling that the once common CFC inhaler has begun to be phased out of production. A more ozone-friendly, non-CFC based propellant version has been patented and is being produced. One problem created by this is that no generic versions can be produced until the patent runs out, which allows the companies that hold the patents to charge higher prices for the non-CFC-based inhalers. This limits the availability of the newer inhalers for many people.

The CFC inhaler was once one of the most popular and successful types of medical devices. Many generic brands made them affordable for people of all social classes. The CFC inhaler also did not have many side effects or adverse health effects, as not many additives or extra chemicals needed to be added to make the product work.

Some people claim that the new style of inhalers, hydroflouroalkane (HFA) inhalers, have many harmful additives. It is for this reason, and the expense of the new inhalers, that many people have tried to legalize the production of the CFC inhaler again. These people would like the CFC inhaler to be omitted from the Montreal Protocol on the grounds that the ozone depletion caused by millions of inhalers worldwide is not as much as the depletion caused by many other sources that are not affected by the treaty.

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