Skip to content

Using an inhaler: Information for patients and families



Patient care

Information for patients and families

The Primary School
Glut1 Deficiency Foundation
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)

Content Reviewers:

Rishi Desai, MD, MPH

Inhalers are small devices that deliver medications like bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs to the lungs.

Zooming in a little bit, bronchodilators open up the airways, allowing more air to flow into the lungs, and anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation and swelling in the lungs.

The first major class of inhalers is a metered dose inhaler.

Metered dose inhalers have a metal canister with an actuator, otherwise known as a plastic covering, as well as a mouthpiece.

They’re often used with a valved holding chamber or a spacer.

Now, when you’re using a metered dose inhaler for the first time, you should first prime it by removing the cap and shaking it for 5 to 10 seconds.

Then aim the mouthpiece at the floor, and press the top of the canister to puff out the medication.

You may need to re-shake the inhaler and dispense the medication a few more times, depending on the medication.

Now when you’re ready to use the inhaler start by shaking it for 5 to 10 seconds.

If you’re using a spacer, you can insert the mouthpiece of the inhaler into the spacer.

Then exhale fully and place your mouth around the mouthpiece of the inhaler or spacer.

Be sure to part your teeth and tuck your tongue out of the way to clear a path for unobstructed airflow, and aim the inhaler at the back of your throat.

Inhale and then press the top of the canister as you take a deep, slow breath through your mouth for 3 to 5 seconds.

Next, hold your breath as long as you comfortably can, up to 10 seconds, then remove the inhaler and exhale.

If you need a second puff of medication, or have been instructed to take a second puff of medication, you should wait about 30 seconds, then repeat the process.

After you’re done, if the medication is a type of steroid, rinse your mouth with water.

Swish, gargle, and spit—don’t swallow the water. This prevents any excess medication from remaining on the inside of your mouth.

Another type of inhaler is a dry powder inhaler.

And there are several types, so they can look and work a bit differently from each other.

But generally, though, you’ll start by uncapping, twisting, or sliding open the inhaler.

You might have to load a capsule that has your medication, then press a button to pierce the capsule and release the medication inside the inhaler.

Or you might have to click a lever to prepare the dose.

Just make sure that you don’t shake the inhaler with the cap off.

To actually dispense the medication, hold the inhaler in front of your mouth, either upright or flat and level, depending on the medication.

Turn your head away from the inhaler and breathe out completely.

Then seal your lips around the mouthpiece, aim the inhaler toward the back of your throat—clearing a path for unobstructed airflow—and take a breath as you dispense the medication.

It’s important that this breath be quick, but deep and forceful, to make sure the medication gets into your lungs.