Where Do We Turn When Prescribed Therapies Aren’t Effective?
Managing symptoms is an ongoing challenge for chronically ill patients. Whether they’re caused by an exacerbation, disease progression, or environmental factors, it’s often difficult for patients to get quick relief, including from respiratory symptoms.
Despite their name, rescue inhalers aren’t always effective in managing or improving pulmonary fibrosis symptoms. Neither are oral steroids. Unfortunately, since my diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), I’ve dealt with this dilemma more than once. When my breathlessness or cough flares up, I struggle to find relief, even with prescribed therapies.
The past few weeks, I’ve been dealing with an increase in unpleasant respiratory symptoms, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and discomfort across the front of my chest and shoulders. I don’t have a cough, but shortness of breath is noticeable in everything I do.
I’ve been through a plethora of tests with my transplant team to see what might be causing the increase in symptoms, but everyone seems stumped. In an effort to provide me relief, my doctor prescribed inhaled steroids.
One steroid is delivered via a Turbuhaler, but I’m no longer able to use it effectively. Accessing the medication from a Turbuhaler requires a deep breath, but I don’t have the lung capacity anymore. So, the doctor prescribed an inhaler that mists at the click of a button, and I inhale the medication normally. He was convinced this would help, but I’m not.
I pride myself on being a compliant patient — you have to be in the transplant and chronic illness world. This means I take my medications on time, keep notes about how I feel, and try not to push my body too hard. As a result, I’ve tried my doctor’s prescriptions, but I’m struggling, and I suspect they may be worsening my symptoms.
Connecting with other patients
Despite being compliant, I also am active in my care. This means I’ll sometimes seek answers for things my doctor and I disagree on. Or, at the very least, I’ll ask clarifying questions to help me understand diagnostic testing, a treatment regimen, or bloodwork results.
Lately, I’ve been connecting with IPF and cystic fibrosis patients about the effectiveness of inhaled steroids. Following are recommendations when therapies aren’t helping.
Consider alternative delivery methods
It makes sense that the fastest way for medications to reach the lungs is via inhalers. However, taking medications this way sometimes isn’t possible for someone with a lung disease. Inhaled therapies can trigger a cough in respiratory patients, and for those with IPF, once a cough starts, it can be hard to stop.
When struggling with therapies, you may want to consider alternative methods of delivery. In my case, a fellow respiratory patient recommended asking my doctor if the inhaled medications are available in oral form. I plan to ask my pulmonologist about it this week.
Sometimes the amount of medications we put into our bodies can cause unpleasant side effects. When I was struggling to receive a diagnosis, many doctors thought I had asthma, so they prescribed Ventolin (albuterol). The amount of Ventolin they wanted me to take caused me to shake excessively, which was hard to tolerate.
I also had a hard time initially managing Ofev (nintedanib), one of two anti-fibrotic therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for IPF. I had to stop taking my originally prescribed dose in the beginning because of gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.
After my doctor weighed the benefits of taking this drug, we tried again by adjusting the dosage. I was finally able to tolerate it, along with a gradual increase in dosage later.
Ask other patients for suggestions
I believe other patients are the best source of information about managing a rare disease. I have learned so much from fellow members of the PF News Forums. One tip I like to share with those who are struggling to manage Ofev-related GI symptoms is to purchase sublingual doses of Imodium instead of oral tablets.
The suggestions other patients provided were invaluable as I sought answers about how to manage new symptoms when my prescribed therapies weren’t effective.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.