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Asthma Inhalers

Ever wonder if you're using an asthma inhaler properly? Do you puff and breathe, or breathe and puff with an asthma inhaler?

Many people are confused when first using an asthma inhaler. Yet, asthma inhalers are the most effective way of delivering lifesaving medications to those with asthma and other lung diseases. Whether you have asthma or care for someone who does, it is important to know more about asthma inhalers, including how to use one correctly.

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What Is an Asthma Inhaler?

An asthma inhaler is a handheld device that delivers asthma medication straight into the airways. Although asthma medications can be taken orally and intravenously, an asthma inhaler medication is delivered directly into the lungs to help relieve asthma symptoms faster and with fewer side effects. 

How Are Drugs Delivered in an Asthma Inhaler?

Asthma inhalers can deliver drugs in a variety of ways. They include:

Metered dose inhalers (MDIs): A metered dose inhaler (MDI) delivers asthma medication through a small, handheld aerosol canister. The metered dose inhaler has a chemical propellant that pushes the medicine into your mouth when you press down on the inhaler, and you breathe the medicine in. A spacer can be used to help you use an MDI more easily.

Dry powder inhalers (DPIs): Dry powder asthma inhalers require you to breathe in quickly and deeply to use properly. These asthma inhalers may be difficult to use during an asthma attack when you cannot fully catch a deep breath. Read the instructions carefully for each dry powder inhaler because they vary considerably. The technique you learned for one type of inhaler often does not apply to others.

Nebulizers: Nebulizers are devices that deliver medication through mouthpiece or mask. They are easier to use because you can breathe normally, and are more often used for young children or people with severe asthma attacks who may not be able to use an MDI or DPI properly. 

What Types of Drugs Are Used in Asthma Inhalers?

Drugs used in asthma inhalers are anti-inflammatory (steroids such as prednisone), bronchodilators (beta-2 agonist medications), or both (a combination inhaler).

Anti-inflammatory asthma inhalers. Anti-inflammatory drugs used in asthma inhalers help prevent asthma attacks and reduce swelling and mucus production in the airways. These anti-inflammatory medications help people get better asthma control. Anti-inflammatory drugs used in asthma inhalers include:

For in depth information, see WebMD's article on Asthma, Steroids, and Other Anti-Inflammatory Drugs.

Bronchodilator asthma inhalers. Bronchodilator asthma inhalers are either short-acting or long-acting. They are used to ease asthma symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. Inhaled bronchodilators dilate or widen the airways, which helps relieve asthma symptoms. Bronchodilator drugs used in asthma inhalers include:

For in-depth information, see WebMD's article on Bronchodilators: Relieving Asthma Symptoms.

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