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Asthma: Ways to Take Inhaled Medicines - Topic Overview

When you use inhaled asthma medicine, you usually use a device that delivers the medicine directly to your lungs. Different types of delivery systems are available. And one type may be more suitable for certain people, age groups, or medicine than another. The following table describes how asthma medicines may be delivered.

Types of asthma medicines
Delivery system and medicines Age group What to think about

Use a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Cromolyn.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Adults and children
  • Doctors recommend the use of a spacer camera.gif with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The spacer is attached to the MDI. A spacer may deliver the medicine to your child's lungs better than an inhaler alone and, for many people, is easier to use than an MDI alone. Using a spacer with inhaled corticosteroids can help reduce their side effects and result in less use of oral corticosteroids.
  • A spacer is recommended for children age 5 and older.
  • A spacer and a face mask are recommended for children younger than 5.
  • Using a spacer with an MDI may be just as effective as and less expensive than a nebulizer and can reduce the risk of an overdose.
  • If you don't use a spacer, you need to trigger a puff of medicine and inhale at the same time.
  • A breath-activated MDI is available for people age 12 and older who have difficulty inhaling while triggering a puff.

Use a dry powder inhaler (DPI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Children 4 years and older and adults
  • How well it works may depend on how well you breathe in.
  • Your doctor determines the amount of medicine you use based on how much air you can breathe in. It also may be different than the amount used in some MDIs.
  • DPIs may be easy to use, but they may be difficult to use during an asthma attack because you need to be able to breathe well to get the best effect.

Use a nebulizer with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Cromolyn.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Any age that cannot use an MDI with a spacer
  • A nebulizer uses a face mask camera.gif or mouthpiece camera.gif to deliver the medicine.
  • The medicine can be given over a long period of time.
  • Nebulizers may be helpful for those who are ill, have serious difficulty breathing, or have trouble using an inhaler—especially infants, very young children, and older adults.
  • A nebulizer is not very precise in delivering medicine, and there is a risk of getting too much medicine (overdose).
  • A nebulizer needs electricity to turn the medicine into a fine mist. Some nebulizers have a large compressor that does this. Other ones are portable and come with batteries.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: February 22, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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