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Asthma inhaler being phased out by FDA: Why?

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(CBS/AP) Use an asthma inhaler? The FDA is asking you to go green.

As part of its continuing efforts to protect the Earth's atmosphere, asthma patients who rely on over-the-counter inhalers will be required to switch to prescription-only alternatives.

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The FDA said Thursday that patients who use epinephrine inhalers must switch by Dec. 31 to an inhaler that doesn't contain chlorofluorocarbons, an ozone-eating aerosol once found in many spray products.

The action is part of an agreement signed by the U.S. and other nations to end the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer. That's the part of the atmosphere that helps block harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

But going green may have some inhaler users seeing red, as the ozone-friendly inhalers cost miore. Epinephrine inhalers go for around $20. The alternatives, which contain the drug albuterol, cost $30 to $60.

The FDA finalized plans to phase out the products in 2008, and the only one now sold in the U.S. is Armstrong Pharmaceutical's Primatene mist. Other inhaler makers have switched to an environmentally friendly propellant called hydrofluoroalkane. Both types of inhalers offer relief from symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest tightness, but the environmentally friendly inhalers are prescription-only.

"If you rely on an over-the-counter inhaler to relieve your asthma symptoms, it is important that you contact a health care professional to talk about switching to a different medicine to treat your asthma," Badrul Chowdhury, FDA's director of pulmonary drug division, said in a statement.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has more on asthma.

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