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When Should I Use My Inhaler?

If you have asthma, you probably keep at least one inhaler with you at all times. These portable gizmos let you breathe in bursts of medication. A control inhaler is used on a regular basis to prevent the inflammation that blocks your airways. A rescue inhaler can deliver treatments for the sudden onset of symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Coughing

Daily Use

Control inhalers are used whether you're having asthma symptoms or not. They contain medications that help control inflammation, which can help prevent flares and keep symptoms from getting worse.

Your doctor will probably have you use it once or twice a day. If you take it twice a day, it’s usually about 12 hours apart. If your symptoms are worse in the morning, try taking it right after you wake up. If you're just starting to use this kind of inhaler, it may take 2 to 4 weeks for the drugs to take effect, so use it as prescribed.

Use your control inhaler:

  • Whether or not you're having symptoms
  • Even if symptoms seem to be improving

Quick Relief

Rescue or relief inhalers are used to quickly bring back normal breathing, or when you think you might be exposed to asthma triggers such as:

  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Insects, particularly cockroaches
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Cigarette smoke

You should keep a rescue inhaler handy at all times and use it when:

  • You have sudden asthma symptoms
  • You're going to be around asthma triggers
  • You encounter unexpected asthma triggers

A rescue inhaler is supposed to relieve sudden symptoms, not control your asthma long term. If you're using a rescue inhaler 2 days a week, or more than 2 nights a month, your asthma isn't controlled. Talk to your doctor -- you may need a control inhaler.

Using an Inhaler Before Activity

Short-acting inhalers can help you prevent or treat symptoms during activities that require extra lung power when you have exercise induced asthma. This includes physical activity such as sports, yard work, or even singing.

  • Use the rescue inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you start .
  • Keep the rescue inhaler on hand in case you experience asthma symptoms during the activity. 
  • Consider changing the types of exercise you do.
  • Avoid weather conditions that might trigger symptoms.

If physical activity often brings on a flare, your asthma may not be well controlled. Regular exercise can help by strengthening lung muscles, managing weight, and boosting your immune system. 


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on January 06, 2014

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