Healthy Heart

What are the Different Types of Inhalers Used to Treat Asthma?

Inhalers have become indispensable, but we need to know how they work.

What are the Different Types of Inhalers Used to Treat Asthma?

Key Takeaways

  • The lung specialist selects the medicine suited to you and chooses the delivery mechanism (inhaler) most appropriate to your condition.
  • The inhaler enables you to self-administer minute doses of medicine that reach your lungs in seconds.

Managing medication and using inhalers have become integral parts of the asthma care routine. An inhaler allows you the freedom of carrying minute doses of medication for use in emergencies wherever you may go. It’s a huge relief knowing that help is immediately at hand in your trouser pocket. Not only is an inhaler easy to carry, but also convenient in terms of consuming. An inhaler makes asthma all the more manageable and recoverable. It is for this reason that an asthma patient is always advised to carry an inhaler with him or her.

The doctor decides the medication and type of inhaler you require

The range and scope of asthma medication have increased diversely. The lung specialist first conducts his or her various tests to diagnose the exact condition of the body, and then selects the medicine that is best suited for you and your body along with the delivery mechanism (inhaler) most appropriate for your condition. Patients suffering from asthma need to be given proper instructions on how to consume their prescribed medicines and course of action on how the inhalers work. 

Types of asthma inhalers that are commonly used

An inhaler is a small and convenient handheld device. It enables you to self-administer minute doses of medicine that reach your lungs in seconds. Determining which type of inhaler that you will receive depends entirely on how severe and how frequent your symptoms are, but the aim of every inhaler is the same. Inhalers are meant to keep you wheeze-free, and instead of taking quite a lot of medication in one go, inhalers allow you to take only the dose you need when you need it to live a completely normal and stress free life. They have become an indispensable aid in combating breathing emergencies brought on by asthma attacks. 

1.   Inhalers with medicine canister and mouthpiece

This is the simplest version of an inhaler with a canister carrying the medication in a pressurized liquid form. Also called a metered dose inhaler, or MDI, this type of inhaler must always be stored at room temperature. If by any chance the inhaler does get too cold, warm it using only your hands. At its lower end, the canister fits neatly into an L-shaped mouthpiece. A simple downward push of the canister releases the medicine as a haze of vapor. By cupping the mouthpiece between the lips, the user inhales the vapor which passes into the lungs directly. The doctor may recommend one or two puffs daily, and advise you regarding the dosage and frequency of weekly use. To facilitate tracking of inhaler usage, most modern versions carry a meter displaying the number of doses used up or remaining.

2.   Inhaler with a spacer for holding medication

Spacers should always be used with MDIs that deliver inhaled corticosteroids. Spacers can make it easier for medication to reach the lungs. This type of inhaler comes with an elongated tubing called the asthma spacer into which the lower end of the canister opens. On applying gentle downward pressure, medicine diffuses into the spacer from which it can be inhaled leisurely with slow and deep breaths. Spacers may come as built-in units or as separate entities that are manually fitted to canisters. If the users are small children, a small mask may be provided to ensure the correct absorption of metered doses.

There are certain important reminders that one must always keep in mind as an asthma patient. These facts include:

  • An asthma patient must only use the spacer with a pressurized inhaler and not with a dry-powder inhaler.
  • A person with asthma must always spray only one puff at a time keeping the spacer away from any heat sources. Some spacers may even have a whistle. Your technique while using it may be fine if you do not hear the whistle. However, if you hear the whistle, this might indicate that you need to slow down your breath.

3.   Inhalers with dry powdered medication

Pressurized liquid medicine comes in metered inhalers. The other type of inhaler comes with dry medicated powder that is loaded into a smaller, circular device that is shaped like a hamburger. Instead of puffing the medicine as a vapor, a form of dry powder is breathed in manually through longer forceful inhalation. Such inhalers offer an easy way to ingest more powerful doses. One has to be careful not to breathe into the device because moisture and caked residue may contaminate future doses. Thus always make sure that once you inhale this type of medication, you must immediately clean and keep it aside.

4.   Using a nebulizer as breathing therapy

If the intention is to deliver fixed doses through the vaporization of medicines, both the metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) and nebulizers pursue the same goal. The only difference between the two is that they accomplish the vaporization in different ways to suit different patients. Nebulizers are machines that turn the liquid form of the short-acting bronchodilator medicine into a fine mist which is more like an aerosol. The asthma sufferer breathes this in with the help of a face mask or a mouthpiece. Nebulizers are extremely useful for people who become extremely tired or fatigued just from their breathing, or, for people who suffer regularly from breathlessness. MDIs are okay for individuals that are dexterous enough to coordinate a canister plunge with a sharp intake of breath. But when users are little children or senile adults, the nebulizer ensures each dose is properly inhaled without wastage.  

The nebulizer is a machine that vaporizes the medicine and allows the user to inhale the mist through a face mask. It sits on a table and can be plugged into a power supply. A steady stream of air generated by a compressor moves up a tube to the medicine holder where air and medicine combine and become vaporized. A face mask allows vapor to be inhaled directly. Nebulizers have become an integral part of home assisted living, especially for senior citizens suffering chronic asthma and COPD. The machines avert emergencies and minimize the need to rush to hospitals for specialized care.