According to experts, metered-dose inhalers used for asthma account for nearly 4 percent of NHS greenhouse gas emissions.
Researchers at Cambridge University say that people with asthma could reduce their carbon footprint by switching to “greener” medications.
They say that this conscious swap would have as big an “eco” impact as turning vegetarian or becoming a master recycler.
The research published in BMJ Open explored the environmental impact of different inhaler medications prescribed by the NHS to patients in England.
There are more than five million people with asthma in the UK alone, and in 2017 about 50 million inhalers were prescribed.
It was found that seven in every 10 of these were metered-dose inhalers containing hydrofluoroalkane—a greenhouse gas used as a propellant to squirt the medicine out of the inhaler.
The researchers estimate that if one in 10 of these were replaced with more eco-friendly dry powder inhalers, this would reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 58 kilotonnes—roughly the same as 180,000 return car journeys from London to Edinburgh, they say.
This replacement (with the least expensive brands of dry powder equivalents) could also reduce NHS drug costs by £8.2 million annually.
Lead researcher Dr Alex Wilkinson said: “The gases within these canisters are such powerful greenhouse gases that they can contribute significantly to an individual’s carbon footprint and if you are using one or two of these inhalers every month, then that can really add up to hundreds of kilos of carbon dioxide equivalent over the course of a year, which is similar to other actions that people are keen to take to reduce their carbon footprint such as going vegetarian.”
However, doctors and medical professionals have warned that asthma sufferers should consult their GP before swapping medications in a bid to be greener.
Asthma UK health advice head Jessica Kirby said: “It is vital that you keep using your inhalers as prescribed.
“If you are concerned about the environmental effects, talk to your doctor or asthma nurse at your next annual asthma review, to see whether there is another type of inhaler that would work for you.”
Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said: “The NHS has already cut its carbon footprint by one fifth in the past decade and giving patients the option to, where clinically appropriate, shift to lower carbon ‘green’ inhalers as set out in the Long Term Plan is not only the right thing for them but also the planet.”