Find out the benefits of using a spacer, how to look after your spacer, and how adults, children and babies can use them effectively.
On this page:
- What is a spacer?
- What are the benefits of using a spacer?
- How to use a spacer
- How to use a spacer and facemask with your baby
- Looking after your spacer
Spacers are empty tubes that are usually made from plastic. They slot onto the mouthpiece of your inhaler on one end, and you use a mouthpiece or mask on the spacer at the other end. They help you get the best from your asthma medicine if you use a metered dose inhaler (MDI).
If you’re using a dry powder inhaler (DPI) or a breath-actuated inhaler (BAI), you won’t need to use a spacer. Speak to your GP or asthma nurse if you’re not sure which type of inhaler you’re using.
Types of spacer
There are several different brands of spacer that fit different inhalers and are available on prescription (including Volumatic, AeroChamber, Able Spacer, Space Chamber Plus, and A2A spacer). Speak to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist about finding the right spacer for you. You can also buy a spacer from your pharmacy without a prescription.
Using a spacer with your metered dose inhaler (MDI) helps the right amount of medicine get to your lungs. Using a spacer will mean:
- you may waste less medicine because it’s working more efficiently by getting the medicine straight to your lungs
- you may reduce side effects from your preventer inhaler because less medicine is absorbed into the rest of your body - side effects like oral thrush are less likely because there’s less medicine in your mouth
- you may find it easier to take your medicine because the medicine collects in the chamber of the spacer, and you can breathe it in without needing to get the timing and speed exactly right.
Your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist should show you how to use your inhaler and spacer properly. You can also check your technique at your annual asthma review.
There are two breathing techniques for adults and children to use with a spacer: ‘tidal or multiple breathing’ and ‘single breath and hold’:
- Watch our video to help you master the ‘tidal or multiple breathing’ technique.
- Watch our video to help you master the ‘single breath and hold’ technique.
Both techniques work equally well. Multiple breathing may be prescribed to younger children as it’s easier to teach. Multiple breathing may also be prescribed if you’re having an asthma attack.
Top tips for adults using spacers
- You might find it easier to be in front of a mirror to check your head is at the correct angle.
- If you notice your spacer making a whistling sound, that means you’re breathing in too fast. If you need to take another dose, take the mouthpiece or mask away from your face, wait 30 seconds to a minute and shake the inhaler again. Then repeat the steps.
- Make sure you’re making a tight seal with your mouthpiece or mask so that no medicine can escape.
- Sit your child on your lap, either sideways or facing away from you.
- When you’ve finished, take the inhaler out of the spacer, and replace the caps on both.
- If your child has used an inhaler that contains steroids, make sure they rinse their mouth out with water to help prevent side effects.
- Take a look at our video on how to help your child use their inhaler and spacer.
How to use a spacer and facemask with your baby
Parents may find it easier to use a facemask with babies and younger children.
Top tips for your baby
- If you have a baby or young toddler, sit them on your lap facing you so you can keep eye contact. With very young babies, you might find it best to tilt them back slightly.
- Cuddle your baby on your knee or cradle them in your arms. Gently tuck their arms out of the way with one hand if they try to knock the mask away.
- Be positive and smile! Your baby will be aware if you’re anxious.
- Gently stroke your baby’s cheek with the mask so they get used to how it feels.
- Reassure your child by pretending to take the medicine yourself or giving it to a favourite toy.
- You can distract your baby with music or a video if it helps.
Replacing and disposing of your spacers
You should replace your spacer at least every year, especially if you use it daily, but some may need to be replaced sooner – ask your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist if you’re unsure.
Check the information leaflet that comes with your spacer to find out how to dispose of it. Spacers are not widely recycled so you may need to dispose of it in normal household waste.
If you’re using a spacer with rubber valves, replace it if the valves become stiff or brittle.
Tips for cleaning your spacer
If it’s a new spacer, clean it before you use it for the first time, then once a month afterwards.
- Take your spacer apart and gently clean it with warm water and a detergent, such as washing-up liquid.
- Only a small number of brands of spacer are dishwasher safe, so check the instructions on the label.
- Use warm water instead of boiling water, as boiling water may damage the spacer.
- Be careful not to scrub the inside of your spacer as this might affect the way it works.
- Leave it to air-dry as this helps to reduce static (an electrical charge that builds up) and prevent the medicine sticking to the inside of the spacer.
- When it’s completely dry, put your spacer back together ready for use.
- Wipe the mouthpiece clean before you use it again.
Video: How to clean and store your asthma spacerAsthma + Lung UK expert nurse Caroline demonstrates how to properly take care of your asthma spacer.
Storing your spacer
When you’re not using your spacer, storing it properly will keep it in good condition, helping you or your child to get the best from your asthma medicine.
- Don’t put your spacer in a plastic bag as this will cause it to build up static and reduce the effect of the asthma medicine.
- Keep your spacer away from dust and liquids.
- If you carry your spacer in your bag, keep it in a plastic-free sealed purse or small bag so it doesn’t get scratched, and so small objects don’t get stuck inside it.
- You may find it useful to give your child a special plastic-free medicine bag or pencil case to keep their inhalers and spacer in. You could help them to decorate and personalise the case, so they are more likely to use it.
You can call our Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (9am - 5pm; Mon - Fri) to talk to a respiratory nurse specialist about using asthma spacers. Or you can WhatsApp them on 07378 606 728.
Last updated April 2021
Next review due April 2024