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How to Use an Asthma Inhaler

How to Use an Asthma Inhaler

Step-by-step instructions on how to get the right dose of your asthma meds.

You've used your inhaler maybe hundreds of times, but have you been doing it wrong this whole time? There's actually a pretty good chance you haven't been using your inhaler correctly. In a recent study, less than one in 10 people with asthma knew how to properly use an inhaler.

"The main reason most patients use their inhalers wrong is that no one has shown them the proper technique," says Brian Gelbman, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical Center. "In our current healthcare environment, many practices can be very busy and may neglect to take the extra few minutes to show patients how to use their inhalers."

But if so few people actually use their inhalers the right way, it can't be that big of a deal, right? Unfortunately, this mistake can be bad news for your health.

"The risk of using your inhaler wrong is that you won't be receiving the proper dose of your medication and will likely be under-treating your asthma," says Dr. Gelbman. "This can ultimately result in unnecessary escalation of care, such as stronger medications with higher risk of side effects or even emergency room visits or hospital stays."

If you're not sure you're using your inhaler the right way, or just want a refresher course, here's a step-by-step guide to using an inhaler correctly:

  1. Take off the inhaler's cap. Make sure it's clean.
  2. Hold the inhaler upright and shake it vigorously.
  3. Take a deep breath in and out, away from the inhaler. (This is the step most people forget. Don't skip it!)
  4. Hold the inhaler upright and bring it to your mouth.
  5. Place the inhaler between your teeth and above your tongue. Seal your lips around it without biting.
  6. Start to breathe in slowly.
  7. Press down on the inhaler canister one time while continuing to breathe in until you've had a full breath.
  8. Take the inhaler out of your mouth. Hold your breath for 5 to 10 seconds.
  9. Slowly start to breathe out. If your prescription calls for another dose, wait 1 minute.
  10. Put the cap back on the inhaler.

If you have a hard time memorizing this list, just remember this tip from Gelbman: "Read the instructions! Almost all devices come with written instructions, and almost all inhalers have websites that demonstrate proper usage," he says. "If that fails, ask your provider or pharmacist to demonstrate the correct usage." It'll take just a few minutes, but it could be the difference in finally getting your asthma under control.

Medically reviewed in May 2018.

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