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How to Use an Inhaler

  • Chris Woolston. M.S.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

Metered-dose inhalers:

Inhalers sold since January 1, 2009 feature a new design. The medicine in them remains the same, but the propellant that forces the medicine from the inhaler canister into your mouth is different. The new propellant, hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA for short, won't deplete the earth's ozone layer the way the old propellant did. While that's good news for the planet, it means you might need to do a few things differently when you use your new HFA inhaler.

Priming

One of the new steps you may need to follow with an HFA inhaler is to prime it. Your new HFA inhaler will probably need to be primed before you use it the first time. It should also be primed if you haven't used it for 2 weeks or if it has been dropped. Check the instructions that came with your inhaler for specifics, but here are some general guidelines: Insert the canister, bottom up, into the holder. Shake the inhaler vigorously, point it away from you and spray. Repeat this shaking and spraying process three or four times. Now your inhaler is ready to use.

Using the inhaler

  • Take the cap off the mouthpiece.
  • You may want to use a spacer, a tube that carries medicine from the inhaler directly to the mouth. A spacer lets patients breathe at their own pace and helps deliver the medicine deep into the airways. Spacers are especially helpful for young children and people taking corticosteroids. Ask your doctor if you're not sure if a spacer would be right for you. If you're using a spacer, attach the spacer to the inhaler.
  • Breathe out, releasing as much air as possible.
  • If you're using a spacer, put one hand around the spacer and one hand firmly around the inhaler, and place your mouth firmly around the end of the spacer.
  • If you're not using a spacer, place the mouthpiece into your mouth and close your lips around it tightly.
  • Breathe in deeply as you press down as far as you can on the top of the canister. After the spray comes out, take your finger off the canister. (You may notice that the HFA inhaler doesn't release as forceful a spray as the old inhaler, and the spray may taste different. However, the medicine is just as effective.)
  • After you have inhaled as much as you can in one breath, take the inhaler out of your mouth and close your mouth. Hold your breath as long as you can, up to 10 seconds, then breathe normally.
  • If your doctor has prescribed more than one spray, wait one minute, shake the inhaler, and repeat the process, starting with exhaling as much air as you can.

Care of your HFA inhaler

HFA inhalers may tend to clog more than the old inhalers, so it is important to clean them every week. Check the instructions that came with your inhaler. Remove the canister from the inhaler and take the cap off the mouthpiece. Run warm water through the inhaler for 30 seconds, then turn it upside down and run warm water through the other way for 30 seconds. Let it air dry thoroughly before using again.

Dry-powder inhaler:

  • Put your mouth around the mouthpiece tightly and inhale quickly and deeply. Remove the inhaler from your mouth and hold your breath for 10 seconds before exhaling.

References

Metered-Dose Inhaler: How to Use It Correctly. American Academy of Family Physicians. April 2005.

Ventolin HFA Product Instructions.

How to use ProAir HFA.

PrventilHFA. Using Your Inhaler.

CFC-Free Inhalers. Time to Make the Switch. American Lung Association

Next Generation Inhalers: What This Means for You. American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology.

Patient information: Asthma inhaler techniques in adults. UpToDate.com. January 1, 2009.

HFA Propellant. National Jewish Health.

How to Use Your Inhaler. Asthma Society of Canada.

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