When Should I Use My Inhaler?

These portable gizmos let you breathe in medication. They treat sudden symptoms and prevent the inflammation that blocks your airways so you can keep breathing.

You need at least one when you have asthma. Make sure you're using yours right, so you get the medicine you need. The best way to use it is with a spacer, a tube that goes between your inhaler and your mouth.

Every Day: Control Inhaler

These inhalers help prevent flares and keep symptoms from getting worse. They're called control inhalers because they have medicine that controls inflammation.

Use yours as often as your doctor tells you to, usually once or twice a day:

  • Whether or not you're having symptoms
  • Even if you feel like you're doing better

If you're supposed to use it two times a day, aim for 12 hours apart.

When you begin using this kind of inhaler, it may be 2 to 4 weeks before you notice the drugs start to work.

Quick Relief: Rescue Inhaler

Rescue or relief inhalers quickly bring back normal breathing when you are:

You should keep a rescue inhaler with you all the time. Use it:

  • When you have a flare of symptoms
  • Before you're going to be around your asthma triggers
  • When you run into unexpected triggers

A rescue inhaler is for short-term symptom relief, not to control your asthma in the long term. If you're using yours 2 or more days a week, or more than 2 nights a month, talk to your doctor about a daily control inhaler.

Make Activity Easier

When you have asthma triggered by exercise, short-acting inhalers can make activities that need extra lung power more doable. This includes things such as sports, yard work, and even singing.

  • Use your rescue inhaler 15 to 30 minutes before you start to help prevent symptoms.
  • Keep it on hand in case you have symptoms while you're working.

If lively movement often brings on a flare, don't give up on exercise. Regular exercise can help you control your asthma. It can strengthen lung muscles, make it easier to manage your weight, and boost your immune system. Instead:

  • Try different kinds of activities that are less challenging.
  • Avoid weather conditions that might trigger symptoms.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on May 10, 2017



Allergy and Asthma Network: “Asthma Inhalers."

American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: “Inhaled Asthma Medications: Tips to Remember.”

Asthma Society of Canada: “Controllers: Inhaled Steroids.”

American Thoracic Society Patient Information Series: “Asthma and Exercise for Children and Adults.” 

Canadian Lung Association: “Exercise and Asthma.”

University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute: “Asthma Fact Sheet.”

Cathy Vitari, RN, BSN, AE-C, Clinical Research Nurse and Certified Asthma Educator, University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

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