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Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs): How to Use One When You Have COPD

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How do I keep track of how much medication is in my metered dose inhaler?

Check the side of the canister for the number of puffs it contains. Then keep track of how many times you use it each day. This way, you can estimate when your MDI is likely to run out. Put that date right on the canister. Be sure to have your prescription refilled one to two days before this date. Some MDI's contain a color-coded side window that indicates when the medication is running out.

It may be difficult for you to keep track of how much you use your inhaler -- perhaps because you only use it every once in a while as a rescue medication. If so, ask your doctor about MDIs that count the puffs each time you press the inhaler. Or ask about getting two inhalers at a time. When one runs out, get a refill so you always have an inhaler handy.

Throw away the MDI when it is empty, even if it continues to spray.

How do I use a dry powder inhaler?

These are the general steps for using a dry powder inhaler for COPD:

  1. Remove the cap from the dry powder inhaler.
  2. Load a dose of medicine (how you do this depends on the type of inhaler you have).
  3. Turn your head and breathe out as much air as you can -- try and empty your lungs.
  4. Put the dry powder inhaler up to your mouth, your lips firmly around the opening so no air or medicine can escape out the sides.
  5. Using just your mouth, breathe in once -- very deep and fast -- filling your lungs as deeply as you can. Dry powder inhalers are breathe-activated, so it's the breathing in deep and fast that gives you the right dose of medicine. Never breathe into the inhaler.
  6. Take your mouth off the inhaler and hold your breath for at least 10 seconds. Then slowly breathe out.
  7. If your doctor prescribed more than one dose of COPD medication, wait about 1 minute before taking the next dose.
  8. Replace the cap on the dry powder inhaler. Gargle and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash (usually advised only for steroid-type inhalers).

How do I keep track of how much medication is in my dry powder inhaler?

Your DPI should have an indicator on the top or sides, telling you how many doses you have left. Make sure you have a new dry powder inhaler available before the old one is empty.

What is a spacer?

A spacer is a tube that attaches to a metered dose inhaler (you don't need a spacer with a dry powder inhaler). It holds the medication until you can breathe it in. The spacer ensures that anyone who does not use the device correctly gets the COPD medicine from the MDI to their lungs. For this reason, it also lessens side effects.

Spacers are sometimes needed because some people find it difficult to use a metered dose inhaler the right way. If you have trouble coordinating your breathing with pressing on the inhaler, ask your doctor about using a spacer.

WebMD Medical Reference

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