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Asthma Inhalers – How they work, when to use them, different types and more

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If you or a loved one is suffering from asthma, then this article is worth reading. It’s important to understand what asthma inhalers are and how best to use them.

What are Asthma Inhalers?

Asthma inhalers are portable devices that deliver asthma-relieving medicine directly to lungs. A variety of inhalers exist to help you control your symptoms. Guided by your doctor, it’s crucial to find the right inhaler for you and learn how to use it effectively. When used correctly, an inhaler can prevent a potentially life-threatening asthma attack.

How Asthma Inhalers Work

Asthma inhalers are specialised devices, filled with medicines that open up your airways. The medicines work by relaxing airway muscles and decreasing inflammation. This way, air can enter the lungs more easily.

Inhalers are a common way to deliver asthma medicine straight to the lungs. There are several different types, which we have discussed below.

When you’re experiencing any symptoms of asthma, an inhaler can be an “intimate friend”. While they do not cure the illness, they do help to restore your normal breathing.

Different Asthma Inhalers: How and When to use them

According to the AAAI (American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology), there are three categories of asthma inhalers:

MDI – Metered-dose Inhalers

Inhaled respiratory medications, such as those taken for asthma, are typically consumed through a metered-dose inhaler. The MDI is a pressurised medicine canister in a plastic holder, accompanied by a mouthpiece. When pushing the button and inhaling simultaneously, the user consumes a fixed dose of medication.

MDIs are a quick, convenient and portable way of dealing with asthma complications on the go. They are cost-efficient compared to dry powder inhalers. There is no preparation required when using an MDI. However, the simultaneous spraying and inhalation technique may take some practice and must be taught by a medical professional.

Some MDIs come with dose counters while others don’t. When there isn’t one, you’ll need to track the number of doses, so you know when to replace your asthma container.

Here’s how you use a metered-dose inhaler:

  • Remove the cover and hold your inhaler in an upright position.
  • You may need to link the inhaler to a spacer (inhalation chamber) if your doctor has recommended one. This is is especially important for young children.
  • Shake the inhaler and make sure you’re sitting or standing in an upright position before using it.
  • Exhale fully.
  • Put your mouth over the mouthpiece and press the button to release the medicine. At the same, time take a deep, slow and steady breath. Breathe in for at least 3-5 seconds.
  • Repeat puffs according to the number recommended by your GP – however, wait at least a minute before taking a second puff.

DPI – Dry Powder Inhaler

As described by the AAAI, a dry powder inhaler is a commonly used device to deliver inhaled corticosteroids (a medicine to decrease inflammation). Unlike a metered-dose inhaler, DPIs are breathe-activated – meaning that they will release the asthma medicine into your lungs as you take a quick and deep breath. Multiple-dose DPIs can hold up to 200 breaths or doses. There are also single-dose DPIs, filled with a capsule prior to each treatment.

DPIs generally contain fewer irritants and are a bit easier to use than MDIs. However, some patients tend to develop poor inhalation techniques and as a result are unable to benefit from the true therapeutic effect of dry powder inhalers. A proper respiratory flow is required to allow the medicine to treat moderate-severe asthma.

One disadvantage of DPIs is that they cannot accommodate spacers which makes it difficult for some users, such as small children. DPIs are also more expensive than MDIs. They come in two types – one where medicine must be added every time and another one where a set amount of doses are already present. Here’s how it’s used:

  • Remove the inhaler cap, if present.
  • Add a dose of medication, as instructed by your GP.
  • Keep the inhaler away from the mouth as you breathe out.
  • Now you’re ready to take a deep breath. Place the mouthpiece in your mouth and inhale sharply for 2-3 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for at least 10 seconds, or as long as is comfortably possible, to allow the medicine to settle properly in your lungs.
  • Follow the same steps for a second dose, if need be.

SMI – Soft Mist Inhaler

Soft mist inhalers are a newer generation of devices that release a steady-moving mist into the lungs upon inhalation. These asthma inhalers contain a liquid similar to those found in nebulisers. SMIs work well to reach the tiny and intricate airways in the lungs. A major advantage is that a counter on the side of the device lets you know how many doses are left. Unlike other types of inhalers, a spacer is not required and it is irritant-free.

Another key advantage of using an SMI is that you can get more of the medicine into your lungs, which means you require lower and fewer doses. The mist is slowly released from the inhaler, which means no ‘special breathing techniques’ are needed. However, one disadvantage is that some users find it cumbersome to load doses into their SMI.

Here’s how you use your SMI:

  • After following instructions on how to prepare the inhaler prior to use, open the cap.
  • Let out a breath slowly.
  • Place your mouth over the mouthpiece, and make sure the air vents on the side are not blocked.
  • Breathe in steadily and deeply as you press the button.
  • After inhaling the mist, hold your breath for 10 seconds, or as long as is comfortably possible, before breathing out.
  • Follow your GP’s recommendation on how many doses you should take.

Usage will depend on your symptoms and the specific recommendations received from your GP or pulmonologist. It is crucial to always follow your doctor’s prescription.

Final Thoughts: Over the Counter Asthma Inhalers on Amazon

Primatene Mist MDI

A fantastic quality metered-dose inhaler which works great and tastes pleasant too. It’s decently priced and effectively alleviates symptoms.

Prima-Flow DPI

The dry powder dispenser offers fast and safe asthma relief from mild symptoms, including tightness of chest, wheezing and shortness of breath.

EpiMist SMI

This off-the-counter soft mist inhaler provided 250 doses and is free from chemical propellants, CFCs and CFCs. It’s considered very safe and effective for mild-intermittent asthma symptoms and FDA registered.

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