If you’ve never thought about inhaler technique, you’re not alone. One study found that people who were prescribed inhalers made at least one mistake 70-90% of the time they used it.1 Turns out, how you use your inhaler matters. That’s because using your inhaler correctly is key to helping you take control of your breathing so you can spend more time doing the things you love.
To help you get the most out of your inhaled medications, we’ll be diving into the following:
- Why reviewing inhaler technique matters
- How to check your technique
- Some general tips for how to use an inhaler
- Who to talk to if you have questions
Why reviewing inhaler technique matters
Cars. Furnaces. How you use an inhaler. These are just a few things that benefit from regular tune-ups – even if you think things are running well under the hood. So, even if you’ve been using an inhaler for a long time, being mindful of even the smallest improvements can go a long way in helping you take control of your breathing.
Here are a few key ways that correct inhaler use can help you breathe better:
- Improved breathing: Taking your controller inhaler as recommended with the correct technique is the number one way to stay healthy. An inhaler that’s used correctly is better at delivering the recommended dose of medication than one that is not used correctly. That means that using an inhaler correctly is key to helping meds work the way they should to improve lung function,2 so you can live more days symptom-free.
- A medication plan that fits your needs: Using an inhaler incorrectly may mean that little to no medication is reaching your lungs. This may make you and your doctor think that your meds aren’t working as expected, which could result in an unnecessary change to your medication plan.
- Fewer side effects: In some cases, misuse of an inhaler can deliver medication in a way that may cause avoidable side effects.
How to check your inhaler technique
Now that you know why it matters, here are a few ways you can check in on your own inhaler form.
- Ask your doctor’s team for a demo. At your next appointment, ask your doctor or a member of their team to show you the proper technique for your type of inhaler. Be sure to bring your inhaler with you to that appointment.
- Ask your pharmacist for a demo when you fill the prescription. Your pharmacist is an excellent resource for all medication-related questions. Ask them to demonstrate the proper way to use the inhaler the next time you fill a prescription.
- Take a video and share it with a member of your health care team. Using the camera on a smartphone or tablet, take a video of yourself in a mirror using your inhaler. Then, bring this video to your next doctor’s visit for their team to review. You can also ask your pharmacist to review the video the next time you see them.
- Find a trusted resource online. Ask your doctor or pharmacist where you can learn more about how to use your inhaler correctly. Many makers of inhalers have their own support resources available online with specific videos for proper technique. Your doctor or pharmacist may be able to help point you in the right direction.
How to use an inhaler
Whether you’ve used the same inhaler for a long time or have recently switched, it can be easy for little mistakes to slip in. Here are some general steps to follow, regardless of which type of inhaler you use*.
- Remove the mouthpiece cover.
- Before using your inhaler, breathe out, fully and gently (but not into the inhaler itself).
- Place the inhaler mouthpiece in your mouth and seal your lips around the mouthpiece.
- Breathe in using the technique described by your doctor, as it may differ based on which type of inhaler you have. (They may have given you cues like “slow and steady” for a metered dose inhaler (MDI), or “quick and deep” for a dry powder inhaler (DPI). Always refer to your doctor’s guidance.)
- Remove the inhaler from your mouth and hold your breath for up to 10 seconds, or as long as is comfortable.
- Wait for a few seconds, then repeat as necessary.
- Put the mouthpiece cover back on the inhaler when finished.
- Depending on the medication, rinse out your mouth. Ask your doctor if this is something you should add to your routine after taking a dose.
*If you use a spacer with your MDI, be sure to read the package insert for specific directions about cleaning and use.
When in doubt, talk to your doctor
Many factors contribute to using, or not using, an inhaler correctly. Some inhalers can be hard to compress, others may require deeper breaths or have challenging timing. While there are ways to help use an inhaler correctly, including inhaler spacers or reviewing technique, ultimately talking with your doctor is best.
And if you think you may be using your inhaler incorrectly, that’s not something to be ashamed of. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to work with your doctor and their team to help you find the solution that’s best for you.
1 Usmani, O. S., Lavorini, F., Marshall, J., Dunlop, W. C. N., Heron, L., Farrington, E., & Dekhuijzen, R. (2018). Critical inhaler errors in asthma and COPD: a systematic review of impact on health outcomes. Respiratory research, 19(1), 10. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12931-017-0710-y2 Giraud, V. & Roche, N. (2002). Misuse of corticosteroid metered-dose inhaler is associated with decreased asthma stability. European Respiratory Journal, 19(2), 246-251. https://www.doi.org/10.1183/09031936.02.00218402
2 Giraud, V. & Roche, N. (2002). Misuse of corticosteroid metered-dose inhaler is associated with decreased asthma stability. European Respiratory Journal, 19(2), 246-251. https://www.doi.org/10.1183/09031936.02.00218402