Understanding Inhalers: Types, Usage, Maintenance, and Risks

Wyndly Care Team
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What are 3 types of inhalers?

Three types of inhalers are Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs), which deliver a specific quantity of medication; Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs), which use breath activation; and Soft Mist Inhalers (SMIs), delivering a fine mist of medication. These are commonly used in asthma and COPD treatment.

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What Is an Inhaler?

An inhaler is a handheld device designed to deliver medication directly into the lungs. It's commonly used in the management and treatment of respiratory conditions like asthma or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Overview of Inhalers

Inhalers are highly effective in controlling symptoms of respiratory conditions as they deliver the medicine directly to the airways, providing faster relief. They come in various types, each designed to deliver specific inhalant allergens or medications.

Handheld Inhaler Devices

These devices, such as the metered dose inhaler (MDI), are portable and user-friendly, making them suitable for people of all ages. They deliver medication in aerosol form, either as a spray or powder. Another popular device is the nebulizer, which converts liquid medication into a mist for easy inhalation.

How Does One Use an Inhaler?

Using an inhaler properly is crucial for the medication to reach the lungs and work effectively. The process generally involves shaking the inhaler, attaching a spacer if necessary, exhaling fully, inhaling the medication, holding the breath, and then slowly exhaling.

Inhaler Procedure

The basic procedure for using an inhaler includes removing the cap, shaking the inhaler for 5 seconds, exhaling away from the device, then inhaling the medication while pressing down on the canister. Hold your breath for 10 seconds, then exhale slowly. It is critical to follow the manufacturer's instructions and your healthcare provider's advice.


MDI delivers a specific amount of medication in aerosol form. To use an MDI, shake it well, breathe out completely, position the inhaler in or near your mouth, and as you start to inhale, press down on the inhaler to release the medicine.

How and When to Use a Steroid Inhaler

Steroid inhalers are typically used daily to prevent asthma symptoms. After inhaling the medication, rinse your mouth with water to prevent thrush, a common side effect. Your healthcare provider will guide you on the frequency and timing of usage depending on your condition.

How to Maintain an Inhaler?

Maintaining your inhaler is essential for ensuring its effectiveness and longevity. Regular cleaning prevents medication buildup and potential blockages, making sure the device delivers the correct dose each time it is used.

Cleaning Your Inhaler

To clean your inhaler, remove the canister and rinse the plastic actuator with warm water. Let it air dry completely before reassembling. This process should be done weekly. For specific cleaning instructions, refer to the information leaflet provided with your inhaler or consult your healthcare provider. Before cleaning, always ensure the canister is full to avoid wasting medication.

What Are the Different Types of Inhalers?

Inhalers come in various types, each serving a distinct purpose. Understanding the differences between a control inhaler, a rescue inhaler, and a steroid inhaler can help you manage your respiratory condition more effectively.

Control Inhaler

Control inhalers, such as Qvar, contain medication that reduces inflammation in the airways over time. They are used daily to prevent asthma symptoms and flare-ups. These are not designed for immediate symptom relief and won’t help during an asthma attack.

Rescue Inhaler

Rescue inhalers, like those containing terbutaline, provide quick relief during an asthma attack or severe flare-up. They relax the muscles around the airways, letting you breathe more easily. It’s crucial to have your rescue inhaler with you at all times in case of an emergency.

Steroid Inhaler

Steroid inhalers are a type of control inhaler used to prevent and control the symptoms of asthma or COPD. They work by reducing inflammation in the airways, improving lung function, and helping to prevent asthma attacks. These should be used regularly as prescribed, not just when symptoms occur.

What Are the Risks and Benefits of Using an Inhaler?

The use of inhalers, like any medication, comes with both benefits and risks. Understanding these can help individuals make informed decisions about their respiratory health management.

Risks and Benefits

The main benefit of inhalers, particularly metered dose inhalers, is their ability to provide fast, targeted relief from respiratory symptoms. They deliver medication directly to the lungs, making them a vital tool for managing conditions like asthma and COPD. However, potential risks include side effects like mouth infections, hoarseness, and in some cases, an increased heart rate. Improper use can also lead to reduced effectiveness of the medication.

Side Effects of Steroid Inhalers

Steroid inhalers play a critical role in controlling chronic respiratory conditions. They reduce inflammation in the airways, preventing symptoms and reducing the risk of flare-ups. However, potential side effects can include oral thrush, hoarseness, and cough. Rinsing the mouth after use can help mitigate these effects. Long-term use at high doses may lead to more serious side effects, so it's important to use them as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

When Should You Call the Doctor Regarding Inhaler Use?

You should contact your doctor in relation to inhaler use if you notice an increase in the frequency of use, a decrease in the effectiveness of the inhaler, or if you experience severe or unusual side effects.

Regular check-ins with your healthcare provider are crucial, especially when using metered dose inhalers or inhaled steroids. These types of inhalers require precise technique for optimal effectiveness and can sometimes cause side effects.

If you find yourself using your rescue inhaler more often than prescribed, or if the symptoms are not controlled by your current treatment plan, it’s a sign you may need to adjust your medication or management plan. Similarly, if you experience symptoms like chest pain, irregular heartbeat, severe headache, or blurred vision after using your inhaler, contact your doctor immediately. These may be signs of serious side effects.

What Special Precautions Should One Follow When Using an Inhaler?

To ensure the safe and effective use of an inhaler, certain precautions should be followed. These precautions aim to maximize the benefits of the inhaler and minimize potential risks.

Firstly, always use the inhaler as directed by your healthcare provider and refer to the instructions provided with the inhaler. Avoid overuse, as it may lead to side effects or decreased effectiveness. Remember to carry your inhaler with you at all times, especially if you're prone to asthma attacks or severe allergic reactions.

Secondly, if you're using a metered dose inhaler, ensure that you're using the correct technique. This involves shaking the inhaler before use, fully exhaling before inhaling the medication, and holding your breath for several seconds after inhalation.

Lastly, be aware of potential interactions with other medications, including inhaled steroids. Some medications can interfere with the effectiveness of your inhaler or increase the risk of side effects. Always inform your doctor of any other medications or supplements you're taking.

In case of accidental exposure to the eyes, rinse thoroughly with water and seek medical attention if irritation persists. Regular cleaning of the inhaler device, as per the manufacturer's instructions, is necessary to prevent clogging and ensure effective delivery of medication.

Why Is This Medication Prescribed?

COPD. They deliver medication directly to the lungs, providing quick relief from symptoms or controlling them over a longer duration.

Inhalers, such as Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs) and Inhaled Steroids, are commonly used in the long-term management of asthma. They help reduce inflammation in the airways, prevent asthma attacks, and control symptoms. MDIs deliver a specific amount of medication in aerosol form, while inhaled steroids help reduce inflammation.

Inhalers can also be used to treat allergies triggered by inhalant allergens like pollen, dust mites, and pet dander. They provide relief from symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. For severe allergies, immunotherapy may be recommended, which involves injecting small doses of allergens to build tolerance.

In certain cases, a nebulizer might be prescribed instead of an inhaler. Nebulizers convert liquid medication into a fine mist that can be inhaled directly into the lungs. They are often used in situations where the patient is unable to use an inhaler effectively, such as in young children or older adults.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is an inhaler used for?

An inhaler is a medical device used to deliver medication directly to the lungs. It is primarily used for treating respiratory conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Inhalers help reduce inflammation, open airways, and alleviate symptoms such as shortness of breath and wheezing.

What is the best inhaler to use?

The "best" inhaler varies depending on the individual's specific condition and severity. For asthma, a common choice is a corticosteroid inhaler, like Flovent or Qvar. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often requires combination inhalers, like Advair or Symbicort. Always consult with your doctor for personalized advice.

What is the counselling point for an inhaler?

The counselling point for an inhaler is to ensure the patient understands its proper use. This includes correct inhalation techniques, frequency of doses, and maintaining device cleanliness. Additionally, patients should recognize early signs of worsening conditions and know when to seek medical attention.

What is the correct inhaler technique?

The correct inhaler technique involves a few steps: shaking the inhaler, exhaling fully, placing the mouthpiece in your mouth, pressing down on the inhaler while inhaling slowly and deeply, holding your breath for 10 seconds, then exhaling slowly. Repeat as prescribed by your healthcare provider.

What are the side effects of using an inhaler?

Common side effects of using an inhaler include throat irritation, cough, voice changes, or a yeast infection in the mouth. Less common but more serious side effects include increased heart rate, palpitations, chest pain, and allergic reactions like rashes, swelling, or breathing difficulties.

What are the symptoms after taking an inhaler?

After using an inhaler, you may experience potential side effects like jitteriness, nervousness, increased heart rate, headaches, or slightly altered taste. In rare cases, side effects can include muscle pain, throat irritation, or an unexpected increase in breathing difficulty. Always consult a doctor if symptoms persist.

What is the most commonly used inhaler?

The most commonly used inhaler is a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). It's often used to administer bronchodilators like albuterol and corticosteroids like fluticasone. These medications help to relax and open airways, reduce inflammation, and manage conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What is a medical inhaler called?

A medical inhaler is officially known as a Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI). It is a device that delivers a specific amount of medication to the lungs, typically in the form of a short burst of aerosolized medicine that is inhaled by the patient.

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