Primatene Mist, the only over-the-counter asthma inhaler sold in the United States, will no longer be available after Dec. 31, 2011 because it uses chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs), a substance that depletes the earth’s ozone layer, to propel the medication.

The epinephrine inhaler’s (Armstrong Pharmaceuticals) discontinuation is being undertaken as part of an international agreement the United States signed to phase out CFCs.

“There are many other safe and effective medications to treat the symptoms of asthma,” Badrul Chowdhury, MD, PhD, director of the FDA’s division of pulmonary, allergy and rheumatology products said in press release.

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He emphasized that purchasing OTC inhalers for breathing difficulties is not an adequate substitution for a medical exam.

“If you have breathing problems but have not been diagnosed by a health care professional, it’s important to see one. Not all breathing problems are asthma, so you need to get an accurate diagnosis and proper medicine.”

Many asthma inhaler manufacturers have replaced CFCs with hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), an environmentally safe propellant, but no HFA version of the Primatene Mist inhaler exists.

Consumers who use the OTC inhaler should not delay changing medications, as it may sell-out of stores before the Dec. 31 cut-off, the FDA warns. The agency advises consumers to ask a health care provider if they are unsure how to use their new inhaler or other medication to ensure accurate dosing.

Those who are concerned about financing a prescription inhaler should ask clinicians and drug manufacturers about patient-assistance programs that make medication available at low or no cost, or visit the Partnership for Prescription Assistance’s website.