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How to Use an Inhaler

At Banner Health, we’re here to help you understand how to manage your asthma effectively so you can focus on the things that matter most. If you ever have questions or concerns about whether or not you’re using your inhalers correctly, call your doctor to set up a consultation.

There are different types of inhalers that serve different purposes and require different techniques. Inhalers can help manage your asthma, but it’s important that you’re using them correctly for them to be effective. Keep in mind, too, that proper use of your inhaler needs to be combined with proactively avoiding your asthma triggers for the most successful management of your asthma. Always talk to your doctor if you have any questions or aren’t sure if you’re using your inhaler correctly.

Inhalers can be categorized by the type of medication they’re providing or by how they administer medication into your lungs.

Medication-type Inhalers

You may be prescribed more than one kind of inhaler to help manage your asthma.

Everyday Control Inhalers

These inhalers help prevent flare-ups and keep symptoms from getting worse. They’re sometimes called “controller medicines” or “maintenance medicines” because they help control your asthma long-term. They do this by reducing the inflammation in your lungs and helping to prevent asthma symptoms from occurring. Your doctor will tell you how often to use it, usually once or twice a day. Be sure to continue using it whether or not you're having symptoms and even if you feel like you're doing better. It can take 2 to 4 weeks for the medication to start having a noticeable impact.

Rescue Inhalers

Rescue inhalers, also called “quick relief medicines,” are taken as-needed for short-term relief of symptoms when you have an asthma attack or the sudden onset of symptoms. They work by opening the airways of your lungs and relaxing the muscles of the airway walls to stop the constriction. They start working within minutes and are typically in effect for 4 to 6 hours.

Delivery-type Inhalers

There are three main delivery methods that inhalers use to get medication into your lungs: dry powder inhalers, metered dose inhalers and soft mist inhalers.

How to Use a Dry Powder Inhaler

Dry powder inhalers work by delivering medicine into your lungs in powder form. Some are single-use where each dose needs to be loaded beforehand and some have a supply of medicine for multiple uses.

  • Remove the cap.
  • For a single-use device, load a capsule.
  • Breathe out slowly, not into the mouthpiece.
  • Put the mouthpiece between your front teeth and close your lips around it.
  • Breathe in through your mouth deeply for 2 to 3 seconds.
  • Remove the inhaler. Hold your breath for as long as you can.
  • Breathe out slowly.
  • If the medicine in your dry powder inhaler contains a steroid, rinse your mouth and gargle with water after you use it. Spit out the water after you gargle.

How to Use a Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI)

Metered dose inhalers have pressurized canisters inside that release a fine mist into your lungs. The pressurization helps to propel the medication into your lungs.

  • Prime the inhaler first. You need to do this when you use an inhaler for the first time or if you haven’t used it for 2 weeks or more. To prime, shake your inhaler for 5 seconds, turn it away from you and press down to spray it.
  • Wait a few seconds and do it again. Repeat two additional times.
  • Put the mouthpiece between your teeth and close your lips tightly around it. Make sure your tongue doesn’t block the opening. You can also hold the mouthpiece about the width of two fingers away from your mouth.
  • Press the top down and breathe in until your lungs fill completely, about 4 to 6 seconds.
  • Hold the medicine in your lungs as long as you can, then breathe out.
  • If you don’t get enough air in the first breath, wait 15 to 30 seconds and try again. Shake the canister again before the next puff.
  • Recap the mouthpiece.
  • If your medicine has a steroid in it, rinse your mouth and gargle with water after you use it and then spit out the water.

How to Use a Soft Mist Inhaler

Soft mist inhalers are similar to metered dose inhalers but without the pressurization that propels the medication out. Instead, they release medicated mist into your mouth that you breathe in.

  • Prime the inhaler like you would a metered dose inhaler.
  • Exhale fully. Then put the inhaler mouthpiece into your mouth and close your lips around it. Begin to inhale slowly while you press the dose release button.
  • Continue to breathe in slowly and deeply.
  • Remove the inhaler from your mouth, hold your breath for 10 seconds then exhale.
  • Recap the mouthpiece.

How to Use an Inhaler While Exercising

When your asthma is triggered by exercise, short-acting inhalers can make activities that need extra lung function, such as sports, yard work or singing, more doable and enjoyable. To help prevent symptoms, use your rescue inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you start. Keep it on hand in case you have symptoms while you're exercising.

If cardiovascular activities often bring on symptoms, don't give up on exercise. Regular exercise can help you control your asthma by strengthening your lung muscles, making it easier to manage your weight and boosting your immune system. Instead, try different kinds of activities that are less challenging and avoid cold and dry conditions that might trigger symptoms.