What is the Difference Between CFC and HFA Inhalers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

There are some significant differences between chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydroflouroalkane (HFA) inhalers which are important for asthmatics and people with lung conditions to know about. By law, CFC inhalers will be banned in the United States as of 1 January 2009, as part of an overall effort to reduce the number of CFCs in the atmosphere. As a result, people who are used to CFC inhalers will be forced to switch to HFA inhalers.

An inhaler delivers medication to a patient's airways.
An inhaler delivers medication to a patient's airways.

The concern with CFC inhalers is that CFCs are known to be damaging to the Earth's ozone layer. In the late 1980s, a variety of legislation was passed to reduce CFC production and use around the world, and in 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established a cut-off date for CFC inhalers, encouraging people to make the switch early to get used to the new inhalers and to help the environment.

CFC inhalers were determined to be damaging to the Earth's ozone layer.
CFC inhalers were determined to be damaging to the Earth's ozone layer.

Both CFC and HFA are used in inhalers as propellants, gases which help to disperse the medication into the user's airways. HFA inhalers, however, have a much softer spray than traditional CFC inhalers, which can cause people to think that their inhalers are not working. When using HFA inhalers, a very long, slow breath is needed, and it is important to wait 30 seconds between puffs. A doctor should be able to demonstrate the technique for patients who are not familiar with HFA inhalers.

Children often need to use a nebulizer for medications until they are old enough to properly manage an inhaler.
Children often need to use a nebulizer for medications until they are old enough to properly manage an inhaler.

HFA inhalers require special maintenance and cleaning. Before use, they must be primed with several sprays, and some require priming every few weeks or so. A pharmacist should be able to provide instructions about how many priming sprays are required, and how often the inhaler needs to be primed. HFA inhalers also need to be washed every week; to do so, the medication canister should be removed, and warm water should be run through the mouthpiece, which should be allowed to dry completely before reassembling the inhaler.

A pharmacist may be able to recommend alternative over-the-counter treatments since CFC inhalers are no longer available in the United States.
A pharmacist may be able to recommend alternative over-the-counter treatments since CFC inhalers are no longer available in the United States.

Many consumers notice that HFA inhalers feel and taste different from CFC inhalers, which can be unsettling. Some asthmatics are also concerned about the use of ethanol in the production of HFA inhalers, because ethanol is typically made from corn. For people with corn allergies, it is very important to check on the ingredients used in HFA inhalers, or to talk to a doctor about options.

A pharmacist can provide instructions and answer questions about an inhaler.
A pharmacist can provide instructions and answer questions about an inhaler.

HFA inhalers also tend to be more expensive, although attempts are being made to bring the price down. For asthmatics with limited funds, several drug companies sponsor donations of their inhalers, and a doctor's office may have samples which can be used to get used to the new inhalers. Ultimately, making the switch will have a positive environmental impact, when one considers the millions of asthmatics who will not be releasing harmful CFCs into the air.

HFA inhalers in a blue mouthpiece are used when immediate treatment is necessary to aid breathing during an active asthma attack.
HFA inhalers in a blue mouthpiece are used when immediate treatment is necessary to aid breathing during an active asthma attack.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon116228

hydroflouroalkane (HFA)is known to cause more damage to the ozone than chlorofluorocarbon (CFC).

The fact is that HFA inhalers are inferior to CFC inhalers and cause the same amount if not more damage to the Ozone layer.

The stronger mist is necessary for patients who are really struggling to breathe. If patients are out of breath how are they supposed to take a big deep breath to inhale from an HFA inhaler.

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