About Inhalers

Your Doctor will prescribe the inhaler that is best suited for your needs. You may need to try a few different devices to see what is best for you. There are a variety of different medications and devices for delivering them. Reliever and controller medications may use the same type of device for delivery. Asthma medication is inhaled directly to the airways to treat the airway inflammation and bronchoconstriction so it is very important that you use them correctly to ensure maximum benefit of the medication. Please visit the various device usage pages of the website to learn more about proper inhaler techniques.

Several different kinds of asthma medicines are taken using an inhaler. Inhaled asthma medications go directly to the site of inflammation and constriction in the airways instead of traveling through the bloodstream to get there. Inhaled medications are the preferred therapy for asthma. Inhaled medications only work if they get to the airways, so learn how to use your inhaler properly.

Many people do not use their inhalers properly, so the medication does not reach their airways. It is very important that you show your doctor, pharmacist, or asthma educator how you use your inhaler to make sure the medication is getting into your lungs, where you need it.

Inhalers fall into several categories:

  • Aerosol Inhalers/Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs): This is likely the one you are most familiar with: Also known as a “puffer”, this inhaler, or pressurized metered dose inhaler (pMDI), is a canister filled with asthma medication suspended in a propellant. When the canister is pushed down, a measured dose of the medication is pushed out as you breathe it in. Examples of MDI’s are: Ventolin, Flovent, Advair, Alvesco, Airomir, and QVar.
    • This medication should be used with a spacer for increased delivery to the airways. When your inhaler is used alone, medicine often ends up in your mouth, throat, stomach and lungs. Medicine left in your mouth, throat and stomach may cause unpleasant taste and side effects. When you use a drug delivery system (a spacer) with your inhaler, more medicine is delivered to your lungs.
    • Soft mist inhalers deliver a measured dose of medication suspended in a water-based mist instead of a propellant.
  • Dry-powder inhalers: Dry powdered inhalers contain a dry powder medication that is drawn into your lungs when you breathe in. Dry-powder inhalers most commonly refer to two devices.
    • Turbuhalers: These devices deliver a dry powder medication as you breathe in. Loading this device is done by turning the dial at the bottom until you hear the ‘click’. Examples of a turbuhaler medication are Symbicort, Bricanyl, Pulmicort and Oxeze.
    • Diskus: This powder medication is inhaled from a device that resembles a ‘hockey puck.’ Loading the dose is done by opening the device, sliding the loading lever and inhaling from the mouthpiece. Examples of Diskus medications are Advair, Ventolin, Flovent and Serevent. Remember to use your inhalers as directed by your Physician. Review the use of your inhalers at your next visit with your Doctor, Asthma Educator or Pharmacist.

Some people prefer dry-powder inhalers to pressurized inhalers because they find it easier to co-ordinate breathing in medication from them. However, with some dry-powder inhalers, it’s necessary to inhale more quickly to get the right dose than it is with a pressurized inhaler. You may have to experiment with a number of different devices (under your doctor’s supervision) before finding the one you’re most comfortable with. An asthma educator can assist you in matching you with the best device.

Some inhaler devices come with built-in counters that monitor the number of doses a person has taken and how many doses the device has left. If your inhaler doesn’t have a counter, ask your doctor or an asthma educator to show you how to monitor your dose.

Each inhaler requires a different technique for administration. One very important difference between the two types is that an aerosol puffer can be used with a spacer, while a spacer should not be used with a dry powder inhaler. Many inhalers need to be primed before first use or after a prolonged period of non-use. Prime your inhaler by releasing a number of test sprays (according to inhaler instructions) into the air, away from your face. Find instructions for specific inhalers in our Breathe Easy Medications Booklet.

Learn about Spacers