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Asthma: A guide to inhalers and nebulizers

Inhalers and nebulizers can help you manage asthma.

When you're in need of asthma medication, you want that medication to start working in a hurry.

That's why inhalers—and other inhalation devices called nebulizers—are such valuable tools when it comes to managing asthma. But they can only do their job when used properly. Because of that, it's important for anyone who needs an inhaler or nebulizer to know how it works and how to use it correctly.

Types of inhalation devices

There are three basic types of devices used to deliver inhaled medications, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI):

Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) use a chemical propellant to push medication out of the inhaler in a mist form so you can easily breathe it in.

Dry powder inhalers don't use a chemical propellant, instead relying on the force of your inhalation to deliver medicine to the lungs. They are a popular alternative to MDIs, notes the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. However, since they rely on a person's ability to inhale, they may not be useful for people with severe asthma, people suffering an acute asthma attack and others who can't produce enough airflow to get the medication into the lungs.

Nebulizers are machines that use pressurized air to create a fine mist of medication that is breathed in through a mask or mouthpiece. These are quite easy to use and are a good option for infants, children and others who may have trouble using an MDI or dry powder inhaler, according to the AAAAI.

Inhaled medications

Inhalers and nebulizers are used to deliver a variety of medications including:

  • Inhaled corticosteroids, which help to lessen inflammation, mucus production, hypersensitivity, swelling and constriction in the airways.
  • Bronchodilators, which provide quick relief from asthma symptoms.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, which lessen inflammation and prevent asthma symptoms.

Doctor's orders

Proper technique is key for getting the inhaled medicine into the lungs where it can do its work. Follow your doctor's instructions for using and cleaning your inhalation device.

And, whatever type of inhaler you use, take your medicine just as prescribed. Some medications need to be taken regularly, even if you are feeling fine. Others should be used when you feel your asthma starting to flare up. If you have questions about your medication or how to use your inhaler, talk to your doctor.

Reviewed 8/13/2022

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