Tips for Correct Use of Inhalers

Inhalers send medicine directly into the lungs. This is different from most pills or shots, which send medicine into the whole body. You must use your inhaler correctly for the medicine to work best. Your pharmacist or prescriber can show you how. Here are some helpful tips.

Types of Inhalers

Wet Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs, HFAs)

  • Small canister of medicine attached to a mouthpiece, often "L" shaped.
  • Propellant forces medicine into lungs as you breathe in.
  • Must be "primed" (test sprays sprayed into the air) before first use or if not used for a few days (depends on the type of inhaler). Your pharmacist can tell you how often to prime your inhaler.
  • Shake well before each use.
  • Can be used with a spacer (a tube that attaches to the mouthpiece to help the medicine go deeper into the lungs).
  • Clean the mouthpiece (plastic part of inhaler) with water and air dry thoroughly.

Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs)

  1. A single "disk" or "tube" shaped device with dry powder-like medicine inside.
  2. Breathing in forces medicine into your lungs.
  3. Does not require priming.
  4. Does not require shaking.
  5. No spacer is needed.
  6. Clean the mouthpiece when needed with a dry tissue. Do not get the device wet or place it in water.
  7. Capsules used with DPIs must not be swallowed.

Steps for Use

The steps you need to know for using your inhaler depend on the type of inhaler you have. The steps below are common to all inhalers:

  1. Take off the cap and shake the inhaler. There is no need to shake a dry powder inhaler.
  2. Breathe out all the way.
  3. Hold the inhaler the way you were shown. If you are using a dry powder inhaler, activate it so that the powder is ready to be inhaled.
  4. As you start breathing in slowly through your mouth, press down on the inhaler. If you're using a spacer, press down on the inhaler, wait a few seconds, then breathe in. If you use a dry powder inhaler, put the mouthpiece to your lips and breathe in quickly.
  5. Hold your breath as you count to 10 slowly, if you can.
  6. Breathe out slowly.
  7. If you're supposed to use another puff, wait about a minute, shake the canister (if using a wet inhaler), and then repeat steps 2 through 6 above. The specific time you have to wait between puffs will depend on the type of inhaler you are using. Check with your health care provider if you are unsure.

What if I Use More than One Inhaler? Which Inhaler Should I Use First?

If you use more than one inhaler on a regular basis, it is important to use these inhalers in a certain order. This will help your inhalers to work better.

  • One inhaler relaxes and opens the airways in your lungs. This is your bronchodilator.
  • Another inhaler decreases swelling in the airways of your lungs. This is your steroid inhaler
  • Always use the inhaler that opens the airways of your lungs first (bronchodilator).
  • After using the steroid inhaler, rinse your mouth with water and spit it out. Do not swallow.

Don't Run Out of Your Inhalers

Make sure you always have enough medicine in your inhalers. Be sure to order a new inhaler from your pharmacy before you run out.

  • For inhalers you use every day:
    • Your pharmacist can tell you how many days' supply is in each inhaler. When you start using a new inhaler write down the date it will be used up. Don't use your inhaler after that date.
  • For inhalers you use now and again if you have wheezing:
    • Your pharmacist can tell you how many puffs are in each inhaler. Keep track of how many puffs you've used.
  • Look at the dose counter on your inhaler, if there is one.
  • Don't put the canister from your inhaler in water (the "float" test) to see if it's empty. Doing this doesn't work, and may damage your inhaler.

How Should I Store My Inhalers?

Always keep your inhalers at room temperature. If you are going out and may need your inhaler, keep it with you (on your person). Do NOT leave your inhalers where they might get too hot or too cold (e.g., in the car).

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