Common inhaler mistakes

Asthma symptoms bothering you? It might be your inhaler technique. Here are some common inhaler mistakes and how to avoid them.

If your asthma symptoms are flaring up, poor inhaler technique could be at the root of the problem. It’s easy to slip into mistakes, especially if you’ve had inhalers for a long time, but you can break those bad habits. Here are some common inhaler mistakes and simple tips for avoiding them.

Not breathing in the right way for your type of inhaler

There are two main types of inhaler – dry powder inhalers and pressurised Metered Dose Inhalers (pMDIs). Wondering what type of inhaler you have? Find out here

  • If you have a pMDI, you need to breathe in slow and steady. At the same time, press the canister on the inhaler once. Continue to breathe in slowly over 3 to 4 seconds, until your lungs feel full.
  • If you have a dry powder inhaler you need to breathe in quickly and deeply until your lungs feel full, to be sure you inhale all the medicine

Forgetting to shake your inhaler first 

Some inhalers need shaking before you take them, and some don’t. We’ve made videos about every kind of inhaler – find yours to find out whether yours needs shaking, or not.

Not waiting between puffs

With some inhalers, you need to wait least 30 to 60 seconds before taking the next puff. This gives the medicine and propellant enough time to mix together.

Not breathing out before using your 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.

Not having a tight lip seal

When you breathe in, making sure your lips are tightly clamped round your inhaler will make sure the whole dose of medicine goes where it’s needed most.

Not lifting your chin slightly before breathing in

Lifting your chin helps the medicine go down into your lungs more efficiently.  

Breathing in too early before pressing the inhaler canister

If you’re already half way through breathing in by the time the medicine is released from the inhaler, you won’t have enough time to finish breathing in all the medicine because your lungs will already be full. If this happens, some of the medicine will end up being sprayed in your mouth and hitting the back of your throat. It won't be carried down to your lungs where it’s needed.

Breathing in too late after pressing the inhaler canister (unless you're using a spacer)

It takes less than half a second from the time the canister is pressed for all the medicine inside the inhaler to be released. If you breathe in after this time, some of the medicine will end up in your mouth instead of being carried down to your lungs where it’s needed.

Not holding your breath after taking your inhaler

If you’ve been advised to hold your breath after using your inhaler, it’s important you do – holding your breath keeps your airways still, giving 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.

Not using a spacer

Some people think spacers are just for children – but actually they can help improve anyone’s inhaler technique. Find out more about spacers here.

Forgetting to take your inhaler at the same time, every day

Taking your inhaler as prescribed is the best way to help manage and improve your asthma symptoms. If your medicine is working as well as it can, you have a better chance of living life symptom-free. Follow these three simple tips for a good inhaler routine:

  1. Try setting daily reminders on your phone to use your preventer inhaler every morning and evening. And, while you’re at it – set a calendar reminder for repeat prescriptions too.
  2. Leave your inhaler in the same place, so you’ll spot it every day – like your bedside table, with your hair products or next to the biscuit tin. Or try keeping it with your keys, so you remember to pick it up before you head out for the day.
  3. Set yourself a goal. Imagine life with fewer symptoms – what would you do? Get outside more? Be more active? Fit back into an old pair of jeans? Write down your goal or find a picture that helps you remember this. Pin it up somewhere you see it every day like the back of your front door or the fridge. 


Last reviewed November 2018

Next review due November 2021

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