A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

What you need to know about using an inhaler

Using an inhaler incorrectly can result in poorly controlled asthma, with studies suggesting up to 50 percent of patients may not be using their inhaler correctly.

An inhaler is an important tool if you have asthma or COPD/emphysema.

“What you are trying to do is deliver the medication down into the lungs, which is where you are having problems,” said Dr. Kevin Keller, a Marshfield Clinic allergist.

There are two main types of inhalers – the pressurized metered dose inhaler and the dry powder inhaler. You can also use a spacer device, which may include a facemask, for the pressurized metered-dose inhaler.

These different types of inhalers and spacers make delivering the medication easier for specific age groups.

Graphic of different types of inhalers - How to use an inhaler

There are many different kinds of inhalers and accessories, so knowing how to use each effectively can be a challenge.

For young children

The dry powder inhaler is hard for young kids who cannot get enough force to breath in the medicine. This is why doctors often prescribe pressurized metered-dose inhalers for younger children.

For infants and toddlers, you can use a spacer and mask with a pressurized metered-dose inhaler to better deliver medication in the child’s lungs.

Older children who can follow directions appropriately can also use a spacer device with no mask.

For older kids and adults

Use either type of inhaler for older children and adults.

When using a pressurized metered-dose inhaler, use a spacer or receive the medication directly from the inhaler. Doctors recommend a spacer to reduce the amount of medication an inhaler deposits in the oral pharynx and throat.

“A lot of the medications we are using an inhaler for are corticosteroids. A possible side effect of using inhaled corticosteroids is the development of oral thrush in your mouth,” Keller said.

Both options though, when you inhale the medication correctly, administer the same amount of medication to the lungs.

Many pressurized metered-dose inhalers have a counter on the back so users know when their medication has run out.

A dry powder inhaler requires minimal coordination and may have fewer problems with the development of oral thrush.

Use your asthma action plan

In the event your asthma condition worsens, your action plan provides an understanding of what symptoms to look for and what medications you should begin or increase.

“The medications we have for asthma these days are much better than they were 15 to 20 years ago, but there will still be times when patients can experience a significant asthma attack,” Keller said. “So we need to have a plan in place to hopefully prevent the development of a severe exacerbation resulting in a trip to the emergency department.”

For more information about using an inhaler, please talk to your doctor.

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