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Pharmaceutical aerosols are products that are packaged under pressure and contain therapeutically active ingredients that are released upon activation of an appropriate valve system. They are intended for topical application to the skin as well as local application into the nose (nasal aerosols), mouth (lingual aerosols), or lungs (inhalation aerosols). These products may be fitted with valves enabling either continuous or metered-dose delivery; hence, the terms “[DRUG] Metered Topical Aerosols,” “[DRUG] Metered Nasal Aerosols,” etc.
The term “aerosol” refers to the fine mist of spray that results from most pressurized systems. However, the term has been broadly misapplied to all self-contained pressurized products, some of which deliver foams or semisolid fluids. In the case of Inhalation Aerosols, the particle size of the delivered medication must be carefully controlled, and the average size of the particles should be under 5 µm. These products are also known as metered-dose inhalers (MDIs). Other aerosol sprays may contain particles up to several hundred micrometers in diameter.
The basic components of an aerosol system are the container, the propellant, the concentrate containing the active ingredient(s), the valve, and the actuator. The nature of these components determines such characteristics as particle size distribution, uniformity of dose for metered valves, delivery rate, wetness and temperature of the spray, spray pattern and velocity or plume geometry, foam density, and fluid viscosity.
Types of Aerosols
Aerosols consist of two-phase (gas and liquid) or three-phase (gas, liquid, and solid or liquid) systems. The two-phase aerosol consists of a solution of active ingredients in liquefied propellant and the vaporized propellant. The solvent is composed of the propellant or a mixture of the propellant and cosolvents such as alcohol, propylene glycol, and polyethylene glycols, which are often used to enhance the solubility of the active ingredients.
Three-phase systems consist of a suspension or emulsion of the active ingredient(s) in addition to the vaporized propellants. A suspension consists of the active ingredient(s) that may be dispersed in the propellant system with the aid of suitable excipients such as wetting agents and/or solid carriers such as talc or colloidal silicas.
A foam aerosol is an emulsion containing one or more active ingredients, surfactants, aqueous or nonaqueous liquids, and the propellants. If the propellant is in the internal (discontinuous) phase (i.e., of the oil-in-water type), a stable foam is discharged; and if the propellant is in the external (continuous) phase (i.e., of the water-in-oil type), a spray or a quick-breaking foam is discharged.
The propellant supplies the necessary pressure within an aerosol system to expel material from the container and, in combination with other components, to convert the material into the desired physical form. Propellants may be broadly classified as liquefied or compressed gases having vapor pressures generally exceeding atmospheric pressure. Propellants within this definition include various hydrocarbons, especially halogenated derivatives of methane, ethane, and propane, low molecular weight hydrocarbons such as the butanes and pentanes, and compressed gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and nitrous oxide. Mixtures of propellants are frequently used to obtain desirable pressure, delivery, and spray characteristics. A good propellant system should have the proper vapor pressure characteristics consistent with the other aerosol components.
The primary function of the valve is to regulate the flow of the therapeutic agent and propellant from the container. The spray characteristics of the aerosol are influenced by orifice dimension, number, and location. Most aerosol valves provide for continuous spray operation and are used on most topical products. However, pharmaceutical products for oral or nasal inhalation often utilize metered-dose valves that must deliver a uniform quantity of spray upon each valve activation. The accuracy and reproducibility of the doses delivered from metering valves are generally good, comparing favorably to the uniformity of solid dosage forms such as tablets and capsules. However, when aerosol packages are stored improperly, or when they have not been used for long periods of time, valves must be primed before use. Materials used for the manufacture of valves should be inert to the formulations used. Plastic, rubber, aluminum, and stainless steel valve components are commonly used. Metered-dose valves must deliver an accurate dose within specified tolerances.
An actuator is the fitting attached to an aerosol valve stem, which when depressed or moved, opens the valve, and directs the spray containing the drug preparation to the desired area. The actuator usually indicates the direction in which the preparation is dispensed and protects the hand or finger from the refrigerant effects of the propellant. Actuators incorporate an orifice that may vary widely in size and shape. The size of this orifice, the expansion chamber design, and the nature of the propellant and formulation influence the delivered dose as well as the physical characteristics of the spray, foam, or stream of solid particles dispensed. For inhalation aerosols, an actuator capable of delivering the medication in the proper particle size range and with the appropriate spray pattern and plume geometry is utilized.
Aerosol containers usually are made of glass, plastic, or metal, or a combination of these materials. Glass containers must be precisely engineered to provide the maximum in pressure safety and impact resistance. Plastics may be employed to coat glass containers for improved safety characteristics, or to coat metal containers to improve corrosion resistance and enhance stability of the formulation. Suitable metals include stainless steel, aluminum, and tin-plated steel. Extractables or leachables (e.g., drawing oils, cleaning agents, etc.) and particulates on the internal surfaces of containers should be controlled.
Aerosols are usually prepared by one of two general processes. In the “cold-fill” process, the concentrate (generally cooled to a temperature below 0) and the refrigerated propellant are measured into open containers (usually chilled). The valve-actuator assembly is then crimped onto the container to form a pressure-tight seal. During the interval between propellant addition and crimping, sufficient volatilization of propellant occurs to displace air from the container. In the “pressure-fill” method, the concentrate is placed in the container, and either the propellant is forced under pressure through the valve orifice after the valve is sealed, or the propellant is allowed to flow under the valve cap and then the valve assembly is sealed (“under-the-cap” filling). In both cases of the “pressure-fill” method, provision must be made for evacuation of air by means of vacuum or displacement with a small amount of propellant vapor. Manufacturing process controls usually include monitoring of proper formulation and propellant fill weight and pressure testing, leak testing, and valve function testing of the finished aerosol. Microbiological attributes should also be controlled.
Extractable Substances
Since pressurized inhalers and aerosols are normally formulated with organic solvents as the propellant or the vehicle, leaching of extractables from the elastomeric and plastic components into the formulation is a potentially serious problem. Thus, the composition and the quality of materials used in the manufacture of the valve components (e.g., stem, gaskets, housing, etc.) must be carefully selected and controlled. Their compatibility with formulation components should be well established so as to prevent distortion of the valve components and to minimize changes in the medication delivery, leak rate, and impurity profile of the drug product over time. The extractable profiles of a representative sample of each of the elastomeric and plastic components of the valve should be established under specified conditions and should be correlated to the extractable profile of the aged drug product or placebo, to ensure reproducible quality and purity of the drug product. Extractables, which may include polynuclear aromatics, nitrosamines, vulcanization accelerators, antioxidants, plasticizers, monomers, etc., should be identified and minimized wherever possible.
Specifications and limits for individual and total extractables from different valve components may require the use of different analytical methods. In addition, the standard USP biological testing (see the general test chapters Biological Reactivity Tests, In Vitro 87 and Biological Reactivity Tests, In Vivo 88) as well as other safety data may be needed.
Medicinal aerosols should contain at least the following warning information on the label as in accordance with appropriate regulations.
Warning— Avoid inhaling. Avoid spraying into eyes or onto other mucous membranes.
NOTE—The statement “Avoid inhaling” is not necessary for preparations specifically designed for use by inhalation. The phrase “or other mucous membranes” is not necessary for preparations specifically designed for use on mucous membranes.
Warning— Contents under pressure. Do not puncture or incinerate container. Do not expose to heat or store at temperatures above 120 F (49 C). Keep out of reach of children.
In addition to the aforementioned warnings, the label of a drug packaged in an aerosol container in which the propellant consists in whole or in part of a halocarbon or hydrocarbon shall, where required under regulations of the FDA, bear either of the following warnings:
Warning— Do not inhale directly; deliberate inhalation of contents can cause death.
Warning— Use only as directed; intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.