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Decision Focus: Choosing an Asthma Inhaler Device

Several types are available. Pick the one you’ll use most effectively.

By Ginny Greene, Contributing Editor

You and your doctor have decided that an inhaler, not a nebulizer, is right for you in managing your asthma. When it’s time to choose an inhaler to deliver your asthma medication, several factors come into play.

The goal is to find an inhaler that you will use, and use effectively. Most patients don’t use the proper technique. Using an inhaler the wrong way may cause less medicine to get into your lungs.

Two devices are commonly used to deliver asthma medications: a metered-dose inhaler and a dry powder inhaler. Each type of inhaler works, as long as you’re using it properly. Some medicines are only available in certain devices. This may limit your choice of inhalers. You and your doctor can decide on what is right for you.

Even if you’ve been using an inhaler for years, it’s a good idea to have your doctor observe your technique at each visit.

A metered-dose inhaler is a handheld device that delivers a specific dose of medication. It includes a canister, a valve and an L-shaped cylinder with a mouthpiece on one end. You shake the medicine, put your mouth on or near the mouthpiece and press the canister to release the medicine. You must breathe in and out correctly during this process to get the right dose.

Some people use a hollow tube called a spacer. A spacer helps most people because you don't have to time your breath as closely. The spacer makes the inhaler a little bulkier to carry with you.

A dry powder inhaler delivers medicine in a powder form. You actively inhale the medicine into your lungs. Some people find these inhalers easier to use than metered-dose inhalers.

The key is using proper technique and choosing the device you're most comfortable with. Other factors include your age, specific needs and whether you can use the device. Inhalers may work differently. Be sure to pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Even if you’ve been using an inhaler for years, it’s a good idea to have your doctor observe your technique at each visit. Keep it clean and always use it as prescribed. Be sure to replace the inhaler before the expiration date.

If you’re using an inhaler, ask your doctor if you should have two inhalers, so you’ll never run out.

Sources:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Expert panel report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of asthma. Accessed: January 12, 2016.
UpToDate. Patient information: Asthma inhaler techniques in adults (beyond the basics). Accessed: Januaryu 12, 2016.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Asthma. How to use a metered-dose inhaler. Accessed: January 12, 2016.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. How to use a metered-dose inhaler. Accessed: January 12, 2016.

Last Updated: January 29, 2016