How to Use Your Inhaler

Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI or pMDI) | DISKUS® | Turbuhaler® | Diskhaler®

Short-acting bronchodilators are called “relievers” or “rescue medications”. They provide fast but temporary relief of bronchospasm (tightening of the airways) by relaxing the muscles that have tightened around the bronchiole tubes, but they do nothing to reduce the inflammation in the airway. Most bronchodilators open the airway and help restore normal breathing within 10 to 15 minutes. The effect lasts for about four hours. If a short-acting bronchodilator is not effective, another reliever strategy may be the combination of a longer lasting but rapid acting medication (LABA) in combination with an inhaled corticosteroid (ICS).

Relievers are safe but, as with any medication, you should never take more than you need. Some of the possible side effects of short-acting bronchodilators are headache, shaky hands (tremor), nervousness, and fast heartbeat. There have been some reports of hyperactivity related to these medications.

Use your reliever only when you have asthma symptoms. Carry it with you at all times and use it when necessary. Note how often you need to use your reliever. If you need it four or more times a week for relief, your asthma is not well controlled. You may find it useful to keep an asthma diary of your symptoms and what you do to control them.

Talk to your healthcare provider about how often you use your reliever inhaler. They may prescribe one or more controller medications or may change the dose or type of controller that you are currently using to get the asthma under control.

How can my doctor and I figure out if my reliever medication is working?

Within 10 to 15 minutes of taking your reliever medication, you should be able to feel your breathing becoming easier. You can use your asthma diary to track your symptoms and how they change after taking your medication.

If you or your doctor want to get a more specific measure of how your lungs are working, you could try using a small, simple device called a peak flow meter. This is a handheld, tube-like device that you blow into. It measures how well air is moving in and out of your lungs. If you use a peak flow meter regularly, it provides useful information about how your asthma is affecting your lungs and how well your reliever medication is working to get things back to normal after an attack. It’s especially helpful for people with moderate to severe asthma. It’s also useful for people who have recently been diagnosed with asthma, to help them and their healthcare practitioners figure out the best doses and combinations of controller and reliever medications.

How should I use my reliever medication if I have Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA)?

Relievers can be used for short-term prevention of Exercise-Induced Asthma (EIA). If this is prescribed for you, take the dose 10 to 15 minutes before exercising. Learn more about exercise and sports with asthma.