UNDATED (CBS) - For millions of asthma sufferers, a medical inhaler is one of the most effective ways to keep the disease's debilitating symptoms under control. For almost half a century, the most popular choice was Primatene mist.
But last year, the medicine was banned by the EPA for containing compounds that were considered harmful to the environment.
Later today, a congressional hearing will determine if excess stock of Primatene mist will be made available to consumers, as they wait for a newer version to hit drugstore shelves.
Primatene mist was appealing to many asthma sufferers because it didn't require a prescription. But today's vote that might see the inhaler returned to consumers has also been met with opposition from the medical community, who say its primary ingredient, epinephrine, is not an effective way to treat the disease.
Later today, lawmakers on Capitol Hill will vote to give Primatene mist back to consumers.
At the start of 2012, the popular over-the-counter inhaler was pulled from drugstore shelves for containing chlorofluorocarbons or CFC's, which are considered one of the primary causes for the depletion of the ozone layer.
Under the terms of the 1997 Montreal Protocol, the United States pledged to phase out all CFC's by 2030.
But the manufacturer, Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, was unable to create an environmentally friendly version of Primatene mist before the FDA imposed deadline.
This has left asthma sufferers, many from low income homes, without an over-the-counter option to treat their symptoms. U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess from Texas says, "The tiny amount of CFCs that disbursed in treatment of an asthma attack is absolutely minuscule and it here he makes no sense to prevent asthma patients from having that therapy available."
Now, Amphastar is hoping the vote will allow its excess stock of Primatene mist to return to stores across the nation. The company says it will donate the profits to charity.
The possible return of Primatene mist has also drawn opposition from the medical community.
In a letter, the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology wrote, "The use of inhaled epinephrine can pose a significant health risk because of its numerous adverse cardio-pulmonary effects."
Dr. Daniel Ein, director of allergy at Georgetown University says, "When used in asthma it rally is inferior to other drugs that are on the market. It's very short acting, it has lots of side effects, it can be habituating for some people, and it's abused."
The manufacturer says there are over one million Primatene mist inhalers sitting in a California warehouse that they hope to distribute if the bill passes. The irony is that the reported expiration date on those products is August 2013, so by the time the inhalers make it back to consumers, they can only be used for a few more months.