I read an excellent article recently. The author, Jenni, highlighted some recent research, which showed that people are less likely to know the names of inhalers they take regularly than any other medication they take.
This really concerns me. Yes, inhalers are colour coded according to type (blue for short-acting ‘reliever’ inhalers, brown for steroid ‘preventer’ inhalers, green for long-acting ‘reliever’ inhalers, purple or red for combinations of green/brown, and yellow and grey for less typical asthma medications), but the differences between medications of the same type, and the differences in strength/dose can be significant.
I may be in the minority here in worrying about this, and I feel that I should declare my allergy to Salbutamol, and my early medical training. Having an allergy to one of the Blue inhalers has always made me very wary of grouping different medications together, by colour, of all things! I lost count years ago of the number of times I was given Salbutamol accidentally because either the person prescribing the medication, or the person administering it, didn’t realise that there was more than one ‘reliever’ medication for asthma.
If you take any regular medication, including inhalers, please, please learn the generic name and the dose. That includes medications that you can buy over the counter, herbal remedies, and supplements. Don’t forget that not all medications go in your mouth. Creams, eye drops, inhalers, nasal sprays are all still medications. I know that medication names are unfamiliar words for many people, but you are the only person with enough of a vested interest in this to learn your own medications, and the only person who will always be there at your appointments/hospital admissions. If you really can’t remember all the names and doses, write them down and carry them with you at all times.
I’ll write another time about the emergency information that I carry with me, and the information that lives in my hospital bag (like an FBI ‘go bag’ but significantly less glamorous), ready for the next hospital admission.
Please don’t write off this post as only relevant if you have very severe asthma or take lots of medications. You may be less likely to spend time in hospital than I am, but there’s always the ‘hit by a bus’ scenario. With 8,765 buses in service in London (according to Transport for London, 2013-14), that’s quite a risk. There are so many reasons that any one of us could need hospital treatment at any time. If you don’t, or can’t, tell people what medications you take, it puts you at higher risk of problems from medication interactions, or withdrawal issues if you suddenly stop medication that you usually take regularly. Something as apparently trivial as a garlic supplement can, in reality, have a significant enough effect that it needs to be stopped a couple of days prior to surgery to reduce the risk of excess bleeding.
If you often leave home without a bag/wallet/pockets, if you think that you might not be able to speak for yourself, or if you have dependents who might need this information but can’t remember it, I thoroughly recommend getting a medical alert bracelet. There are lots of companies that make medical jewellery, which is perfect if you only need to get a few words across to emergency services. I’ve used MedicAlert for years (I’m not affiliated with them in any way, other than having used their service). MedicAlert have a service that allows you to store a lot of information on file, accessible to medical professionals who ring the number on your bracelet/necklace (24/7, from anywhere in the world, with information available in over 100 languages). Perfect for me, as I struggled to fit even just the essentials onto the engraved emblem. At one point, we considered writing something along the lines of, ‘medically complex and fragile – do not touch – ring this number.’
Joking aside, wearing some sort of medical alert, even if it’s just a way to alert people to your next of kin in an emergency, is worth considering. They’re available in all sorts of designs, suitable for athletes, women, men, children… I wear mine as often as I can (I need to get one in a different material, as the metal of my current bracelet irritates my skin) and always carry the laminated card that accompanies the jewellery. If you have a hidden medical condition or disability, allergies or take regular medication, you should consider it essential! I sometimes wish that everyone had to wear a MedicAlert bracelet, just so that medical professionals would remember to look for/at them!