Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on December 20, 2020

Forget to Shake the Canister

Your inhaler has medicine to help your breathing and a “propellant” that helps push it into your lungs. You shake the canister to mix them so you get the right amount of each. If you don’t, you might get too much of one and too little of the other. Instead: Shake the canister fairly hard 10 to 15 times before you use it.

Have Bad Aim

When the opening of the inhaler is pointed up at the roof of your mouth or down at your tongue, you may not get a lot of the medicine into your lungs where it can do the most good. Instead: Aim the medicine at the back of your throat so it gets into your airways.

Breathe in Too Late or Too Soon

An inhaler typically releases a dose in less than half a second. If you breathe in after that, a lot of the medicine may stick to your mouth and throat instead of going down into your lungs. And if you fill your lungs with air before you push your inhaler button, there’s no room for the medicine to get in there and do its work. Instead: Add a spacer to your inhaler. It holds a dose in a small tube so you can breathe it in when you’re ready.

Have Loose Lips

They don’t just “sink ships,” as the saying goes, they can also waste inhaler doses. If your lips are loose enough to let air out when you take a puff, they can send your medicine that way as well. Instead: Make sure your lips form a total seal around the end of your inhaler.


Your lungs can’t take in as much air, or push it out as well, when you hunch over, especially if you’re sitting down. That’s because you might not be able to breathe in as much medicine or clear your lungs well enough before and after you use your inhaler. Instead: Sit up straight, or better yet, stand up when you use your inhaler.

Use an Empty Inhaler

It’s easier to do than you might think. Because some propellant stays in the container after the medicine is gone, you might not be able to tell what you’re breathing in. Some inhalers have a counter to track how many doses are left. If yours doesn’t, ask your pharmacist how many doses are in the canister and note your start date and every puff you use.

Rush to the Next Puff

If you take another puff just seconds after the first, the medicine and propellant may not have enough time to mix back together the right way. And your body doesn’t have time to get the full effect, so the next dose might not work as well as it could. Instead: Wait about a minute between puffs. 

Forget to Prime the Inhaler

“Prime” just means to spray it into the air. If you don’t do that with a new inhaler, you could get the wrong mixture of propellant and medicine when you use it. Instead: Prime it about four times with a 5-second shake in between each pump. Do it again if you drop it or you don’t use it for 2 weeks or so.

Don’t Breathe Out First

Air takes up space in your lungs. If your lungs aren’t as empty as possible before you use your inhaler, you might not get as much medicine into them. Instead: Breathe out as much air as you can just before you breathe in a dose to get medicine deep into the many small pathways in your lungs. 

Forget to Check for Debris

Lint or trash can get caught in the opening of your inhaler, and you could shoot it into your lungs if you don’t clear it out. Instead: Look inside the opening of the inhaler before each use. Put the cap over the mouthpiece when you’re not using it to help keep stuff out.

Breathe Out too Quickly

The medicine in your inhaler won’t have as much time to do its job and might not work as well if you exhale right after you use it. Instead: To get the full effect, hold your breath for about 10 seconds after you take in a dose.

Skip the Instructions

Some inhalers are meant to be used every day, while others are only used when you need them. And the different types work best with different techniques or breathing patterns. Be sure to read all the directions and talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how to use your inhaler the right way.

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