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


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.

How do I use a metered dose inhaler with a spacer?

These are the general steps for using a spacer. Be sure to read the instructions that come with yours. They may be slightly different.

  1. Remove the caps from the metered dose inhaler and spacer.
  2. Insert the inhaler into the open end of the spacer.
  3. Shake the inhaler for a few seconds.
  4. Breathe out completely.
  5. Place the mouthpiece of the spacer between your teeth. Seal your lips tightly around it.
  6. Press the canister once to dispense the medication into the spacer.
  7. Breathe in slowly through your mouth for about 3 to 5 seconds. If you hear a hornlike sound, slow down. This means you are breathing too quickly.
  8. Hold your breath for at least 10 seconds.
  9. If your doctor prescribed more than one puff of COPD medication, wait about 1 minute and repeat steps 3-8.
  10. Remove the spacer from the inhaler and replace the caps on the inhaler and spacer.
  11. Gargle and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash.

How do I care for my inhalers and spacer?

Here are some basic guidelines for caring for metered dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers, but be sure to follow any additional instructions your health care provider gives you.

  • Use a dry cloth to wipe away powder or residue from your inhaler. Only use water if your health care provider recommends it.
  • Clean a spacer every other day - or once a week if you use it rarely. Remove the soft ring at the end of the spacer. Soak the spacer and ring in warm water with mild detergent. Rinse the ring and spacer in warm water. Let the ring and spacer air dry.
  • Do not store your metered dose inhaler or dry powder inhaler near heat or an open flame.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Lisa B. Bernstein, MD on August 13, 2015
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