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COPD Health Center

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

People who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or other lung conditions often take their medications using devices called a metered dose inhaler (MDI) or a dry powder inhaler (DPI).

What is a metered dose inhaler?

A metered dose inhaler is a handheld device that delivers a specific amount of medication in aerosol form, rather than as a pill or capsule. The MDI consists of a pressurized canister inside a plastic case, with a mouthpiece attached. With an MDI, you press on the device while inhaling the COPD medication directly into your lungs. Its portability makes it easy to use anywhere, anytime. MDIs use a chemical propellant to push medication out of the inhaler.

What is a dry powder inhaler?

Some medications can be taken in the form of a dry powder, using a dry powder inhaler, which is also a handheld device. A DPI delivers medication to the lungs as you inhale through it. It doesn't contain propellants or other ingredients -- just your medication.

Why is it important to learn how to use my inhaler?

If you use the metered dose inhaler or dry powder inhaler the right way, you receive the right amount of COPD medication and it can reach deep inside your lungs. Then you can gain the full benefit of the medication. Also, if you use your inhaler the right way, you are less likely to experience side effects.

How do I use a metered dose inhaler?

These are the general steps for using a metered dose inhaler for COPD:

  1. Remove the cap from the metered dose inhaler.
  2. Shake the inhaler for a few seconds.
  3. Place your index finger on top of the canister and thumb on the bottom of the mouthpiece.
  4. Tilt your head back slightly and breathe out.
  5. Hold the inhaler upright about the width of two fingers from your mouth.
  6. Press down on the inhaler once as you breathe in as slowly and deeply as you can - about 3 to 5 seconds.
  7. If possible, hold your breath for at least 10 seconds.
  8. If your doctor prescribed more than one puff of COPD medication, wait about 1 minute and repeat steps 2-8.
  9. Replace the cap on the metered dose inhaler.
  10. Gargle and rinse your mouth with water or mouthwash (usually advised only for steroid-type inhalers).
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