Find out the most common inhaler mistakes people with asthma experience, how to avoid them and how to manage your inhaler routine.
On this page:
1. Not using the right technique for your inhaler
It can take time to practice and master the right technique for your inhaler. There are two main types of inhaler - dry powder inhalers (DPIs) and metred dose inhalers (MDIs). Depending on which type you use, you’ll need to use a different inhaler technique. If you’re not sure what type of inhaler you have, ask your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist.
- MDIs – You need to breathe in slow and steady and, at the same time, press the canister on the inhaler once. Continue to breathe in slowly over 3 to 5 seconds, until your lungs feel full.
- DPIs – If you use a dry powder inhaler, you need to breathe in quickly and deeply until your lungs feel full. This makes sure the medicine is completely inhaled.
Watch our inhaler videos to check the right technique for your inhaler.
2. Not using a spacer
A lot of people don’t realise that using a spacer is the best way to take their MDI inhaler. Spacers help the right amount of medicine get to your lungs and reduce side effects. Find out more about how spacers work.
3. Not breathing out fully before using your inhaler
People often don’t breathe out as fully as they need to before using their inhaler. When you breathe out as fully as you can just before taking your inhaler, you create more space in your lungs for your next breath in. This means that you can breathe in deeper and for longer when you inhale your asthma medicine - giving it the best chance of reaching the small airways deep inside your lungs.
4. Forgetting to shake your inhaler before using it
Some people forget to shake their inhaler before using it. Inhalers such as MDIs need shaking before using to ensure the medicine and propellant mix properly, but other inhalers may not need shaking. Watch our inhaler videos to find out if yours needs shaking or not.
5. Not lifting your chin slightly before breathing in
Lifting your chin helps the medicine go down into your lungs more efficiently. Our inhaler technique videos show you what your head position should be.
6. Breathing in too early or late
When you breathe in too early you won't have enough time to finish breathing in all the medicine because your lungs will already be full. Breathing in too early will mean some of the medicine will end up sticking to your mouth or the back of your throat, instead of being carried to your lungs where it’s needed.
If you breathe in too late, especially if you’re not using a spacer, the medicine can stick to your mouth or the back of your throat, instead of getting to your lungs. This is because it takes a very short amount of time for the medicine to be released once the canister is pressed.
7. Not waiting between puffs
With some inhalers, such as metered dose inhalers (MDI), you need to wait at least 30 to 60 seconds before taking the next puff. This gives the medicine and propellant enough time to mix.
8. Not having a tight lip seal
When you breathe in, make sure your lips are tightly sealed around your inhaler. If the seal is not tight, medicine will escape, and you won’t get the full dose.
9. Not holding your breath after taking your inhaler
If your GP, asthma nurse, or pharmacist has told you to hold your breath after using your inhaler, it's important to do this. Holding your breath gives the medicine more time to settle into your lungs. Ten seconds is ideal, but if this isn't possible, you’ll still benefit by holding your breath for as long as you feel comfortable.
10. Not rinsing your mouth after using a steroid inhaler
It’s important to rinse your mouth out after using a steroid inhaler, such as your preventer inhaler. This is so that any medicine that is stuck in your mouth or throat is cleaned away. This will prevent side effects such as oral thrush.
Forgetting to take your preventer inhaler at the same time every day
Taking your inhaler as prescribed is the best way to help manage and improve your asthma symptoms.
- Set a daily reminder on your phone to use your preventer inhaler every morning and evening. You may also want to set a calendar reminder for ordering your prescriptions too.
- Leave your inhaler in the same place so that you see it every day. It’s a good idea to keep it next to items you use often, such as near your keys or on your bedside table.
Forgetting to bring your reliever inhaler out with you
It’s a good idea to take your reliever inhaler with you whenever you leave the house. Try keeping a spare inhaler and a spare spacer (if you use an MDI) in your bag so that you don’t have to remember to pack it every time you go out.
You can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to talk to a respiratory nurse specialist about using your inhalers. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.
Last reviewed: November 2021
Next review due: November 2024