Innovation Helps Horses with Asthma
Source: TMI Medical Distribution Inc.
A diagnosis of asthma used to mean retirement for performance horses, or in some cases, euthanasia. But with advancements in research, good management, and the development of products that help coughing horses perform, now many riders can keep their wheezing horses comfortable and extend their lives.
Asthma — also known as inflammatory airway disease (IAD), heaves, broken wind, COPD, and recurrent airway obstruction (RAO) — is one of the most common respiratory ailments in horses, whereby the horse’s air passages narrow and normal breathing becomes onerous. Depending on the horse, asthma may be mild, reducing the horse’s ability to exercise, or severe, causing the horse to gasp for air.
One of the unfortunate aspects of heaves is that horses who develop the condition are often at that exceptionally useful middle-age when they’re putting in solid performances in the show ring and helping riders develop their skills. So keeping these asthma-prone horses comfortable day-to-day, plus ensuring they can continue to compete, is paramount to many riders and their coaches.
Environmental Changes Are An Important Start
The ailment is primarily caused by environmental conditions such as poorly-ventilated living spaces, dusty or moldy hay, and dusty arenas. Hence, an important treatment for asthma is to eliminate the causes by ensuring barn environments are well-ventilated and low-dust, providing good quality feed plus soaking or steaming hay, and exercising horses in low-dust arenas. Sounds simple, but this can be costly, time-consuming, and may be unrealistic at boarding stables where many riders keep their horses.
Well, in addition to reducing potential causes, two common treatments include using corticosteroid medication to counteract inflammation of the horse’s airways, and bronchodilators to open constricted airway passages. Historically, these drugs were given orally or by injection, thereby affecting the horse’s whole system, not just the problematic airways. But systemic drug use also requires higher dosages and can produce unwanted side effects.
Targeting The Lungs
Realizing there must be a better way to specifically treat an airway issue rather than by simply dosing the whole horse, in 1995, Trudell Medical International (Trudell) and University of Guelph created a nebulizer called the AeroMask™. Nebulizers deliver a drug-containing mist, which the horse inhales for approximately 20 minutes. However, the cost of a nebulizer mask, the time needed to use it, and difficulty using it can be limiting.
Regardless, inhalation treatment is often the preferred way to treat equine asthma by veterinarians, because:
- Medications are delivered directly to the airways rather than medicating the whole horse, and
- There is decreased systemic absorption of drugs, which helps avoid unwanted side effects.
AeroHippus® Chamber – Faster and Easier
Acknowledging the challenges of nebulizer therapy, Trudell went back to the drawing board in an attempt to design a user-friendly, inexpensive, quick treatment for inflamed airways that riders could use when needed. Utilizing learnings from their research on how asthma “puffers” effectively treat humans, Trudell designed the AeroHippus®™ Equine Aerosol Chamber. This low-cost handheld device captures and holds the medication from human-style asthma puffers (metered dose inhalers), and passively delivers the drug-containing aerosol directly to the horse’s lungs when they inhale. It’s a Canadian innovation with some interesting engineering.
First off, AeroHippus® is simply held up to one nostril, preventing the claustrophobic issues of a face-covering mask. Secondly, because the aerosol that comes out of a metered dose inhaler is electrostatically charged, the chamber has been made from an anti-static polymer to prevent the medication from sticking to the chamber walls. This helps ensure that medication remains available for inhalation, allowing for greater drug availability and less drug wastage. Thirdly, when the horse inhales, a visible indicator confirms proper mask seal and allows the number of breaths the horse takes to be counted, to provide assurance of proper use. The AeroHippus® Chamber works with all types of metered dose inhalers including corticosteroids for daily management of inflammation and bronchodilators for rapid opening of the airways during an attack. All-in-all, it’s a pretty neat Canadian invention that has been embraced by the Thoroughbred racing industry, and is used by riders in a variety of horse sports as directed by their veterinarians.
While reducing dust in barns, feed, and arenas can substantially reduce the potential for equine asthma, there are also fast, user-friendly, effective treatment options, which are a boon for horse owners trying to keep their asthma-prone horses comfortable and competing.
For your other four-legged friends with respiratory problems, AeroKat® and AeroDawg® Chamber are also available.
To learn more, please visit www.AeroHippus.com.
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