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Inhalers: What Are They, How Do I Use Them, Why Do I Need One?


Inhalers – also known as bronchodilators – are medications breathed through the mouth and into the lungs in order to help clear airways. For example, an asthma attack swells and narrows the airways, making it difficult to breathe and triggering symptoms like coughing and wheezing. An inhaler relaxes these tightened muscles surrounding the airway. Air then moves in and out with greater ease, and the person is able to breathe better again.

Using the inhaler correctly is critical to controlling your breathing problems. Improper usage keeps medicine in the back of the mouth and prevents it from reaching the lungs. Proper usage will vary depending on the type of inhaler. The most common type of inhaler are controllers, designed for daily use by asthmatics. The other common type are rescue inhalers, designed for people who experience symptoms that make breathing difficult.

For controllers, or long-acting bronchodilators, the name of the game is control as opposed to quick relief. These inhalers and their medication must be prescribed by a doctor. They are used over long periods of time (typically on a daily basis) to control inflammation of the airways and prevent asthma attacks. The most effective controller medicine for asthma is an inhaled corticosteroid.

For rescue inhalers, or short-acting bronchodilators (also known as “quick-relief” or “reliever” inhalers), it only takes a few minutes for the medication to begin working, but the effects wear off after 4-6 hours. Rescue inhalers are used to quickly treat asthma attacks or acute symptoms when they occur. They can also be used before exercise to prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks.

To use a metered-dose inhaler with no spacer (the most common type of inhaler, which can apply to long-acting or short-acting bronchodilators), first shake the inhaler hard before using it. Then breathe out in order to push as much air out as possible, place your lips tight around the inhaler mouthpiece, and breathe in as slowly and deeply as you can, pressing on the inhaler one time. If you take multiple inhalations, there should be at least a thirty second time between them.

You might need an inhaler if you experience any asthma symptoms like coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath. We recommend you consult your physician to decide if inhalers are right for you.

If you wish to learn more or discuss your concerns with an expert – or you simply want to “breathe better” again – call “The Lung Docs” at 423-710-3864 for an appointment. It’s one number, one call, that’s all!