How to use an asthma inhaler
Inhalers of one kind or another are often the mainstay of asthma therapy. I'm Dr. Alan Greene and let's talk about how to actually use an inhaler. When someone is first handed an inhaler, their first instinct is often to put their mouth around the opening and to squeeze. But it turns out when you do it that way you'll often end up with a lot of the medicine inside your mouth, on your tongue, on the roof of the mouth and inside the cheeks. You get less medicine down into the lungs where it's needed. It tastes bad, and if it happens to be one of the preventive kinds of medications, it can actually lead to thrush or yeast in the mouth. So, the way that we usually recommend is to hold it close to your mouth and begin breathing in through your mouth so you get a good airstream going straight in and down into your lungs. And once you got that going, then squeeze like this. And then close your mouth from then to keep it in there.
Now something else that's worth noting. An even better way to use an inhaler is with a spacer. We especially recommend this for kids, but it's better for adults, too. And the way the spacer works - you don't have to be coordinated. You don't have to time it perfectly. You can put the spacer into your mouth and you squirt the medicine into the spacer and just breathe in and out normally for awhile so the medicine keeps coming in. Now whatever you use whether it's a straight inhaler or the spacer there is a recent change that's worth being aware of. For a long time, asthma inhalers were propelled by CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) that caused some problems with global warming and ozone depletion. Those have now been replaced or are being replaced with something called HFA instead. That's great for the environment but it is a little bit clumpier. So it's important, the little place where the medicine comes out of, you may need to clean off on an albuterol kind of inhaler, whether you're using a spacer or doing it directly into your mouth.
- Last reviewed on 9/18/2011
- David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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