[This piece was written by Ashley Varno, RRT with St. Peter’s Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Wellness Program.]
As mentioned by my colleague in this article on spring allergies and asthma, there are many different medications used to treat asthma symptoms and they can come in a wide variety of devices. It is important to understand how to correctly use the device that’s delivering your medication so you are receiving the full benefit.
If you receive a prescription for a new inhaler, ask your health care provider or pharmacist to review the inhaler and demonstrate its proper usage. Two of the most commonly seen inhalers are the metered dose inhaler (MDI) and the dry powder inhaler (DPI).
The Metered Dose Inhaler
An MDI is a pressurized inhaler that delivers the medication by using a propellant. There are a couple of key components to remember when using your MDI.
First, remember to shake the device well before each use. Second, depending on the manufacturer’s instructions, you will need to prime the device a certain number of times before using it for the first time, or if you haven’t used it within a certain amount of time.
Once you’re ready to take the medication, exhale AWAY from the device then place your teeth and lips on the mouthpiece. Start to breathe in slowly then actuate, or press the top of the inhaler, and continue your inhalation, completely filling your lungs. Once you’ve taken your full breath in, remove the inhaler from your mouth and hold your breath for up to 10 seconds, followed by a slow exhale. Repeat these steps if a second “puff” is required.
Often, the preferred method for an MDI is with the use of a chamber or spacer, so ask your doctor if this is an option for you. If you are using your MDI with a chamber or spacer, the instructions for use will change.
The Dry Powder Inhaler
A DPI contains only the medication, which is in a powder form. Some of these devices may require you to place the medication into the device, while others simply need you to push a button, slide a door, or twist the device.
Once the medication is ready to be taken, it is important to keep the device steady and level so that the powder doesn’t move out of place. Exhale AWAY from the device, then place your teeth and lips on the mouthpiece. Inhale strong and steady, completely filling your lungs. Take the device away from your mouth and hold your breath up to 10 seconds, followed by a slow exhale.
Regardless of the type of inhaler you have, it is important to read the patient information leaflet that comes with it for tips on care and cleaning. If it is an inhaled steroid, always remember to rinse and spit after using the inhaler. Check the expiration date on your inhaler and be mindful of the dose counter to make sure it is not empty.
Remember, if you are taking an inhaler to maintain good lung function, you have to take the right inhaler, at the right time, with the right dose to realize the most benefit.
Here’s to better breathing!