If you’ve been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) or asthma, your doctor may have prescribed an inhaler as part of your treatment plan. An inhaler is a handheld device that delivers medicine in a measured dose while a person inhales. Inhalers are used for respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD.
Inhaled medicine may work faster than oral medicines to relieve symptoms such as wheezing and spasms in the bronchial tubes, because the inhaler allows the medicine to go directly to the lungs. Inhaled medicine usually causes fewer side effects than oral medicine.
There are two types of inhalers:
As with any medication you are prescribed, it is important that you know how to use your inhaled medication device to make sure you are getting the proper dose and effect. Since using inhaler devices can take some practice, we have created instructional videos for the most common inhaler devices – the metered dose inhaler (MDI), the HandiHaler, the Diskus and the Respimat. Your doctor will determine the type of device and medication you are prescribed based on your condition and symptoms.
Of the four devices listed above, the metered dose inhaler (MDI) is the most commonly used device and has three different ways to use it – open mouth, closed mouth and with a spacer. An MDI contains both medication and a propellant so the device needs to be shaken to mix the components before each inhalation. Medications delivered by an MDI include bronchodilators (which open the airways) and inhaled corticosteroids (which decrease inflammation). Use of an MDI with a spacer improves the delivery of the medication directly to your lungs and may be recommended by your doctor. Since spacers can be bulky, sometimes it is not practical to carry them outside of the home. On those occasions when you do not use a spacer, alternative ways to use the MDI are the open mouth or closed mouth method.
The HandiHaler is a dry powder device that delivers a long acting bronchodilator. To use this device, you load a capsule into the HandiHaler, pierce the capsule and then inhale by taking a deep breath through the mouthpiece. There are a few things to keep in mind when using the HandiHaler. Be careful not to tilt the device toward the floor after piercing the capsule or you may lose some of the medication. To make sure you have inhaled all of the medication, your doctor may instruct you to take a second deep breath through the mouth piece.
Another type of dry powder device is the Diskus. The Diskus is used to deliver either inhaled corticosteroids or combination medications (corticosteroids with long acting bronchodilators) which decrease inflammation and open up the airways. These medications help to control asthma, and may also be used for COPD when individuals have had repeated respiratory infections. This device is preloaded with doses of the medication which is pierced and then inhaled through a mouthpiece. Like the HandiHaler, if tilted toward the floor, the medication can be lost and your doctor may instruct you to take a second deep breath through the mouth piece to ensure all of the medication has been delivered.
The newest device is called the Respimat and is typically used in the treatment of COPD. This device delivers a fine mist of two inhaled bronchodilators. This device needs to be prepared for use when first obtained from the pharmacy by inserting the cartridge into the device. Once the device is prepared and dose is loaded it is inhaled while taking in a slow, deep breath through the mouth.
These inhaled medications can help you manage the symptoms of your COPD or asthma, but they must be used properly in order for you to receive the full benefit of the medication. Please follow further detailed instructions provided with your inhaler on how to use your specific inhaler. If you have any questions about how to use your inhaler, contact your doctor’s office for further instruction.