Using your inhalers

Most people with asthma use an inhaler. It's the most effective way of taking asthma medicines.

Most people with asthma use an inhaler to take their asthma medicines. Using an inhaler means you get the medicine quickly. It helps you breathe the medicine straight into your lungs where it's needed.

If you're using a good inhaler technique you're less likely to get side effects, because not much of the medicine is absorbed into the rest of your body.

We also have information on helping your child use their inhalers.

Watch our video selection to see how to use different kinds of inhalers. 

How does a good inhaler technique help you to manage your asthma?

Using your inhaler in the best way helps you get the right amount of medicine into your lungs. Once it's there it can get to work to reducing your asthma symptoms.

If you're using your preventer inhaler as prescribed, and using the right inhaler technique, it can help you:

  • feel less breathless climbing stairs
  • cope better with your usual asthma triggers
  • get a good night's sleep
  • have less time off work
  • take part in exercise and family activities. 

Good inhaler technique can really make a difference to how well you manage your asthma. It can also cut your risk of an asthma attack.

Are you using the correct inhaler technique?

Some people tell us that inhalers can be hard to use. And even if you think your inhaler technique is OK, it might not be - a recent survey we carried out found that up to a third of people with asthma aren't using their inhaler in the right way. 

Without a good inhaler technique you may not get the full dose of your medicine, or get much help from it.

Instead of reaching your lungs, the medicine might be hitting the back of your throat, or staying on your tongue or in your mouth.   

Using the wrong technique can also mean you're more likely to get side effects, such as oral thrush or a sore throat.

So it's worth asking your GP, asthma nurse, or pharmacist to check your inhaler technique from time to time. 

It may be that by getting help with your inhaler technique, and getting support in finding a good routine with your asthma medicines, you'll be able to manage your asthma symptoms without needing to be prescribed higher doses. 

Getting your inhaler technique checked

Whenever you go to see your GP or asthma nurse about your asthma, whether it's your annual asthma review, or another asthma appointment, ask them to check your inhaler technique. This is  especially important if you've recently had symptoms or an asthma attack.

There are lots of different types of inhalers and they work in different ways, so if you're prescribed a new type of inhaler, make sure you're shown how to use it correctly. 

Even if you're using the same inhaler you've always had, it's easy for little mistakes to slip in. Or you may need to update your technique because the design of your inhaler may have changed.

You can also ask your pharmacist to show you how to use your inhalers correctly.  

Helpline quote inhaler technique

Types of asthma inhalers and how to use them

There are different kinds of asthma inhalers, with different types of medicine in them. Because these inhalers are used in different ways you may find some easier to use than others.

Your GP or asthma nurse can talk you through the different types of inhaler devices available and help you to decide which one is best for you.

If your GP or asthma nurse hasn't discussed your options with you, ask them if the inhaler you're using is the best one for you at your next asthma review.

Inhalers come in lots of different colours. Relievers are usually blue and preventers are usually brown (but some can be orange).

This list is a general guide to the different types of devices available, but you can also watch the videos below to get specific instructions for your inhaler.

'Press and breathe' metered dose inhalers (MDIs)

An MDI inhaler uses a small canister with a mixture of your medicine and a gas or liquid that turns the medicine into a very fine spray as you press on the canister. Most people call this a 'puff' of medicine. These kinds of inhaler are often called 'puffers'.

Spacers make press and breathe inhalers easier to use and more effective. They collect the medicine inside them, so you don't have to worry about pressing the inhaler and breathing in at exactly the same time. 

To get the best result you should shake the inhaler before each puff so that the medicine mixes well before use.

'Breathe in normally' breath actuated MDIs

Breath-actuated MDIs are usually given to people who have difficulty using a standard 'puffer'. These inhalers are activated by your breath.

When you breathe in normally through the mouthpiece, it releases medicine in a fine spray form. You don't have to push the canister to release a dose.

Autohaler and Easi-breathe are examples of breath actuated MDIs. You need to shake these inhalers before each puff so that the medicine mixes well before use.

'Breathe in hard' dry powder inhaler (DPIs)

Dry powder inhalers release medicine in very fine powder form instead of a spray when you breathe in through the mouthpiece.

You need to breathe in fairly hard to get the powder into your lungs.

Examples of DPIs include Accuhalers, Clickhalers, Easyhalers, Novolizers, Turbohalers, Diskhalers and Twisthalers.

Are you making any of these common mistakes with your inhaler technique?

For all inhalers:

  • Not breathing out first. When you breathe out as fully as you can just before taking your inhaler, you create more space in your airways 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, and being most effective.
  • Not holding your breath after taking your inhaler. If you've been advised to hold your breath after taking in your inhaler, it's very important to do so. When you hold your breath after inhaling the medicine, you are keeping your airways still. This gives more time for the medicine to get into your lungs. If you can hold your breath for 10 seconds, this is ideal. But if this isn't possible, you will still benefit by holding it for as long as you feel comfortable.

If you have a 'press and breathe' MDI inhaler:

  • Not shaking your MDI before use and between puffs. If you don't shake the canister, the asthma medicine and propellant (the substance which helps turn the medicine into aerosol form) will not mix together properly. Too much or too little of one will be released.
  • Inhaling too early before pressing the 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.
  • Inhaling too late after pressing the 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 being sprayed in your mouth and not being carried down to your lungs where it's needed.
  • Not leaving enough time between doses. You need to give your inhaler a good shake between doses and then wait at least 30 to 60 seconds before taking the next puff. This gives the medicine and propellant enough time to mix together.

Get the best from your inhalers

Use these simple tips to make sure you get the best from your inhalers. This will help you get the right dose of your medicines to keep your asthma symptoms as well controlled as possible.

1. Check your inhaler technique in between asthma reviews

  • You can use these videos to check your technique, and remind yourself of each important step.
  • You can pop in to see your local pharmacist anytime (you don't need an appointment) to ask them to check your technique.

2. Avoid oral thrush and/or a sore throat after using a preventer inhaler that contains steroids

  • Make sure you're using the correct inhaler technique
  • Brush your teeth, rinse out your mouth or gargle and spit out, after using your preventer inhaler
  • Use a spacer with your preventer inhaler

3. Store your inhalers correctly

  • You should always keep the inhaler cap on when you're not using it. People who use inhalers have told us that sometimes things have got stuck in the mouthpiece of their inhaler. This is usually because they've stored it in their handbag or drawer without the cap on. This can be dangerous - there's a risk you might inhale the stuck object when you next use your inhaler.
  • Store your inhaler at the correct temperature. Extreme temperatures and/or high altitudes can affect the medicine in your inhaler. Check the label on your inhaler for storage instructions. Don't leave your inhaler where it might get too hot or cold (for example in your car or on a sunny window sill). Speak to your GP about how to look after your inhaler if you're planning to go on holiday to a hot or cold country, or if you're going mountain climbing.

4. Clean your inhalers the right way

Cleaning and properly maintaining your inhaler isn't difficult, but a couple of handy tips can make sure you don't affect how well they work.

Cleaning your 'press and breathe' metered-dose inhaler. Follow the cleaning instructions that come in the box with your MDI. The most important thing to remember is to never wash the metal canister or put it in water - only wash the plastic parts.

  1. Remove the metal canister from the plastic casing of the inhaler and remove the mouthpiece cover.
  2. Rinse the plastic casing thoroughly under warm running water.
  3. Dry the plastic casing thoroughly inside and out.
  4. Put the metal canister into the plastic casing, test it by releasing a single puff into the air and replace the mouthpiece cover.

Cleaning your dry powder inhaler:

  1. Wipe the mouthpiece of your dry-powder inhaler with a dry cloth at least once a week.
  2. Do NOT use water to wipe the dry powder inhaler because the powder is sensitive to moisture.

For more information...

The patient information leaflet is the leaflet that's included in the box with a medicine. It explains the best way to use, clean, store and look after your inhaler.

If you're unsure about anything or have any questions about what's written in the patient information leaflet, speak to your GP, asthma nurse or pharmacist.

If you've lost or misplaced the patient information leaflet you can download an electronic copy:

  • visit the electronic Medicines Compendium (eMC) website
  • type in the name of the medicine in the search box
  • click on the option which has a purple circle with 'PIL' written inside it
  • download the PDF (click on the downward facing arrow on the left-hand side of the screen which says 'view patient information leaflet')

Last reviewed April 2018

Next review due June 2018