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How to use an inhaler

Alternative Names

Metered-dose inhaler administration

Information

Metered-dose inhalers usually come in three pieces:

  • A mouthpiece
  • A cap that goes over the mouthpiece
  • A canister full of medication.

Using a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) seems simple, but many patients do not use it the right way. When you use your MDI the wrong way, less medicine gets to your lungs. This is why is is recommended that you use a spacer device, which connects to the mouthpiece. The inhaled medicine goes into this tube first, and then you take two deep breathes to breath the medicine into you lungs. It has been shown that using a spacer wastes a lot less medicine than directly spraying the medicine into your mouth.

Spacers come in various shapes and sizes. Ask your doctor which is best for you or your child. Almost all children over age 3 can use a spacer.

You do not need a spacer for dry powder inhalers.

The following steps discuss how to take the medicine without a spacer. They are based on instructions from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

GETTING READY

  • Take off the cap and shake the inhaler hard.
  • Breathe out, gently, to empty the lungs as much as possible.
  • Hold the inhaler 1 - 2 inches in front of your mouth (about the width of 2 fingers).

BREATHE IN SLOWLY

  • Start breathing in slowly through your mouth, and then press down on the inhaler once. (If you use a spacer, first press down on the inhaler. Within 5 seconds, begin to breathe in slowly.)
  • Keep breathing in slowly, as deeply as you can.

HOLD YOUR BREATH

  • Hold your breath as you count to 10 slowly, if you can. This lets the medicine reach deep into your lungs.
  • For inhaled quick-relief medicine (beta-agonists), wait about 1 minute between puffs. There is no need to wait between puffs for other medicines.
  • Rinse your mouth afterward, to help reduce unwanted side effects.

CLEAN YOUR INHALER AS NEEDED

Look at the hole where the medicine sprays out from your inhaler. If you see residue in or around the hole, clean the inhaler. Remove the metal canister from the L-shaped plastic mouthpiece. Rinse only the mouthpiece and its cap in warm water. Let them dry overnight. In the morning, put the canister back inside. Put the cap on.

REPLACING YOUR INHALER

For control medicines you take each day, write the date you need to replace it on the canister.

For example, say your new canister has 200 puffs (number of puffs is listed on canister) and you are told to take 8 puffs per day. This canister will last 25 days. If you started using this inhaler on May 1, replace it on or before May 25. Write the date on your canister.

Do NOT put your canister in water to see if it is empty. This does not work.

STORAGE

Store your metered-dose inhaler at room temperature. It may not work well if it is too cold. The contents of the canister are under pressure. So, do not get it too hot or puncture it.

Clean your inhaler as instructed by the package insert.


Review Date: 12/13/2006
Reviewed By: John Goldenring, MD, MPH, JD, Department of Pediatrics, Children's Hospital, San Diego, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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