updated 5/30/2008 12:21:56 PM ET 2008-05-30T16:21:56

Old-fashioned asthma inhalers that contain environment-harming chemicals will quit selling at year's end — and the government is urging patients not to wait until the last minute to switch to newer alternatives.

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Patients use inhalers that dispense airway-relaxing albuterol during asthma attacks.

Chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, once were widely used to propel the drug into the lungs. But CFC-containing consumer products are being phased out because CFCs damage the Earth's protective ozone layer. As of Dec. 31, CFC-containing asthma inhalers can no longer be made or sold in the U.S. — and inhalers are being powered instead by ozone-friendly HFAs, or hydrofluoroalkanes.

Patients have been warned of the change for several years — but the Food and Drug Administration is issuing an advisory Friday saying anyone still using CFC inhalers should ask their doctor about switching now.

The FDA warns that the patients will face a learning curve: HFA inhalers may taste and feel different. The spray may feel softer. Each must be primed and cleaned in a specific way to prevent clogs. And they tend to cost more.

CFC-free options: GlaxoSmithKline's Ventolin HFA, Schering Plough's Proventil HFA and Ivax Corp.'s Proair HFA, all containing albuterol. Also, Sepracor's Xopenex HFA contains levalbuterol, a similar medication.

The FDA said Armstrong Pharmaceuticals is the sole remaining maker of CFC inhalers and is expected to stop production even before the deadline — although an agency spokesman wouldn't provide a date. Armstrong could not immediately be reached for comment.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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