How to Use an Inhaler illustration

How to Properly Use an Inhaler: Step by Step (2024)

by | Updated: Apr 19, 2024

Inhalers are devices that are used to treat asthma and other respiratory conditions. They work by breaking up medications into tiny aerosol particles that can be inhaled into the lungs.

For this to occur, you must use your inhaler with the proper technique. Otherwise, the medication will not reach the lungs, resulting in little to no therapeutic effect.

As a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), I’ve worked with hundreds of patients on how to properly use their inhalers. In this article, I’ll share with you the proper technique for using an inhaler, as well as some common mistakes that people make.

Type of Inhalers

types of inhalers illustration

There are two primary types of inhalers:

  1. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs)
  2. Dry powder inhalers (DPIs)

A metered dose inhaler is a device that contains a canister of medication that is pressurized with a propellant. The canister releases a fixed amount of medication when you depress the canister with your thumb.

A dry powder inhaler is a device that contains a chamber of medication that is not pressurized. The medication is in the form of a powder, and you must inhale forcefully to get the medication into your lungs.

Steps for Using a Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI)

  1. Remove the cap from the mouthpiece.
  2. Prime the inhaler by activating one dose into the atmosphere.
  3. Shake the inhaler well.
  4. Breathe out fully.
  5. Place the mouthpiece of the inhaler in your mouth and make a tight seal with your lips.
  6. Activate the inhaler to administer a dose as you begin to take a breath in.
  7. Continue taking that deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds, or as long as you can.
  8. Breathe out slowly.
  9. If you are using multiple doses, wait at least 30 seconds before taking the next dose.
  10. Replace the cap on the mouthpiece of the inhaler.
  11. Rinse your mouth with water and spit it out after using the inhaler.

Steps for Using a Dry Powder Inhaler (DPI)

  1. Open the device until it clicks into place and load a dose of medicine.
  2. Breathe out fully, but do not breathe into the inhaler.
  3. Keep the inhaler flat to avoid dumping out the powder.
  4. Place the mouthpiece of the inhaler in your mouth and close your lips around it.
  5. Take a deep, fast breath in to inhale the medication into your lungs.
  6. Hold your breath for 10 seconds, or as long as you can.
  7. Remove the device from your mouth.
  8. Breathe out slowly through pursed lips. Again, do not breathe into the inhaler.
  9. If you are using multiple doses, wait at least 30 seconds before taking the next dose.
  10. Wipe the mouthpiece with a dry cloth after each use.
  11. Close the device.
  12. Rinse your mouth with water and spit it out after using the inhaler.

Common Mistakes People Make When Using an Inhaler

Unfortunately, far too many people use their inhalers incorrectly, which leads to little to no therapeutic effect of the medication. Here are some common mistakes people make when using an inhaler:

Not Using the Proper Technique

As you can see from the steps above, a specific technique must be used when using an inhaler. If you do not use the proper technique, the medication will not reach your lungs, and you will not get any benefits from the medication.

Not Using a Spacer

A spacer is a device that attaches to the mouthpiece of an inhaler and holds the medication in a chamber. This makes the process of using an inhaler much easier, as it helps more medication reach the lungs.

Spacers are especially important for young children and older adults, who may have difficulty using with hand-breath coordination.

Not Shaking the Device

If you are using a metered dose inhaler, it is important to shake the inhaler well before each use. This ensures that the medication is evenly distributed and that you are getting the full dose of medication.

Not Breathing Out Fully Before Each Use

If you do not breathe out fully before using an inhaler, there is less room in your lungs for the medication. This means that less medication will reach your lungs and you will not get the full benefit of the medication.

Not Waiting Between Doses

If you are using multiple doses of medication, it is important to wait at least 30 seconds between each dose. This ensures that the medication has time to be fully absorbed into your lungs and that you are getting the full benefit of the medication. It also gives the propellant enough time to mix properly with the medication.

Not Rinsing Your Mouth After Each Use

It’s important to rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash and spit it out after each use of an inhaler. This is especially important after the use of a corticosteroid inhaler. If you do not rinse your mouth, the medication can cause oral thrush, which is a fungal infection of the mouth.

Forgetting to Bring Your Inhaler

If you have asthma, it’s common for your doctor to prescribe what’s known as a “reliever” inhaler. These inhalers are meant to be used in emergency situation such as when you’re having an asthma attack or your symptoms are worsening.

However, many people forget to bring their inhaler with them when they leave the house, which can lead to serious consequences if an exacerbation arises. Therefore, it’s important to always have your inhaler with you, even if you’re just going for a walk around the block.

Final Thoughts

It takes a little bit of practice to learn how to use an inhaler with the proper technique. However, it’s important to do so to get the full benefits of the medication. This is especially true for those with asthma or other chronic lung conditions.

If you are having difficulty using your inhaler, go back through the steps above to learn the proper technique while avoiding some of the most common mistakes that people make.

Also, be sure to talk to your doctor, pharmacist, or respiratory therapist. They can help you troubleshoot any problems you may have and ensure you are using your inhaler correctly. Thanks for reading, and, as always, breathe easy, my friend.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.

References

  • Egan’s Fundamentals of Respiratory Care. 12th ed., Mosby, 2020.
  • Rau’s Respiratory Care Pharmacology. 10th ed., Mosby, 2019.
  • Wilkins’ Clinical Assessment in Respiratory Care. 8th ed., Mosby, 2017.
  • “CDC – Asthma – Using an Asthma Inhaler Videos.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/asthma/inhaler_video/default.htm.
  • Jahedi, Lia, et al. “Inhaler Technique in Asthma: How Does It Relate to Patients’ Preferences and Attitudes Toward Their Inhalers?” National Library of Medicine, 1 Feb. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278803.

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