Using a preventative inhaler properly is key to improving the symptoms experienced by asthmatics, but few patients use inhalers correctly on a consistent basis. Existing inhalers require multiple steps for use, with recent research demonstrating that mistakes are made as much as 70-90 percent of the time. Proper inhaler use results in 40 percent of the drug reaching the lungs—but when it's done wrong it can result in as little as 7% of the medication being delivered. These numbers convinced James Plimmer that a better solution is desperately needed. While a BA Product Design student at Nottingham Trent University, he designed Flohaler as his final project.
Plimmer's design focuses on improving three key aspects that impact the efficiency of inhalers: posture, airflow, and coordination. Flohaler features an angled mouthpiece that naturally encourages users to lift their chin. "This results in the throat being straightened, reducing the deposition of the dose in the mouth and at the back of the throat," Plimmer explains. One chronic user error with typical inhalers is breathing in too quickly, so Plimmer designed the device to have a narrow opening. "A more restrictive opening around the canister ensures patients inhale at a much slower rate, further reducing drug deposition in the back of the throat."
Patients are supposed to breathe in gently before taking a dose, because moving air into the lungs allows for a "smoother flow of the medication." But getting this right can be tricky, as Plimmer notes. "The optimal window to activate the dose is typically quite small. By reducing airflow speed, we widen the opportunity to activate the dose, reducing the issue of coordination."
The design also has an easy-to-read counter that tracks how many doses are left and includes indications in braille on its case. "As a preventative inhaler, these are typically taken in the morning and at night, integrated into the patient's routine," Plimmer notes. "Additional factors in relation to inhalers or asthma such as stigmatization or inhaler size are less of a priority since the preventer is left in the house and not taken with them."
Flohaler targets patients who have the tendency to get complacent in their use habits, who may be inadvertently hurting their health in the process. Plimmer conducted user tests in which participants showed a marked improvement in technique, and as a consequence, received more efficient doses of their medication.
Plimmer says there are existing products that attempt to tackle the issues associated with preventative inhalers, but they do so in a way that increases their cost. By "approaching this through the use of form...rather than complex internal mechanisms," Flohaler remains a less expensive alternative that could have widespread commercial reach.
"In the future, development of a children's range specifically designed for smaller hands along with supplementary products such as spacers will enhance the inhalers functionality across a broader range of patients," Plimmer says. "Additional development into reducing the volume of material needed for the actuator could have further additional benefits, not only from an economic perspective but also an environmental one too."