How do inhalers work?

asthma is a chronic disease caused by inflammation of the airways in the lungs (Bronchioles). It can cause symptoms such as wheezing, shortness of breath, and coughing. Asthma is often treated with inhaled medications that reduce inflammation to improve oxygen flow.

An inhaler is used during an asthma attack to expand the airways, allowing oxygen to flow. People with asthma should always carry an emergency inhaler with them to stop acute asthma attacks and prevent serious complications.

This article discusses the different types of inhalers, how they work, and the correct technique to use them.

Type of inhaler

There are several different types of inhalers used to treat asthma.

metered dose inhaler

A metered dose inhaler (MDI) is a small, pressurized metal container with a plastic nozzle for hand-held use. Asthma medication is dispensed in measured doses.

MDIs are very common because they are easy to use and carry.


A sort of sprayer is a device that turns a liquid medicine into an aerosol so that it can be inhaled for faster symptom relief.

While nebulizers are often used to deliver asthma medications, they are not as portable as MDIs because they require electricity. This makes them more difficult to use for sudden asthma attacks.

dry powder inhaler

A dry powder inhaler (DPI) is a device used to deliver asthma medication in dry powder form. The device is not under pressure like an MDI, so it doesn’t “push” the drug into your lungs. Instead, you have to take a deep breath to get the medicine.

Advair Diskus is a common brand of DPI.

How do inhalers work?

Inhalers deliver medicine directly to the lungs. These drugs are often used to reduce airway inflammation or to dilate the airways.

Drugs that dilate the airways are designed to widen their diameter to increase the flow of oxygen.these are called BronchodilatorIn this way, inhalers can sometimes prevent future asthma attacks (often with medications that reduce inflammation) or treat acute asthma attacks.

the right technology

metered dose inhaler

MDIs can be used with or without special holding chambers, sometimes called spacers.

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Without spacers:

  1. Remove the plastic cap from the inhaler.
  2. Shake the inhaler.
  3. Some inhalers require preparation, which involves depressing the canister and releasing a few puffs of medication into the air before use.
  4. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth and seal it with your lips.
  5. Begin to inhale slowly and deeply while pressing the jar once. Continue to inhale for about five seconds.
  6. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds before exhaling.

With gasket:

  1. Remove the plastic cap from the inhaler.
  2. Shake the inhaler.
  3. Activate the inhaler if necessary. If you are not sure whether your inhaler needs to be primed, this information should be on the package insert that came with your inhaler.
  4. Attach the gasket to the mouthpiece.
  5. Exhale.
  6. Hold the mouthpiece of the pad to your mouth and seal it with your lips. Keep your jaw down.
  7. Begin to inhale slowly while depressing the canister to release a mouthful of medicine.
  8. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds, then purse your lips and exhale slowly.
  9. Additional steps may be required depending on the type of medication you are taking. If you are using a rescue inhaler (beta agonist), you should wait a minute before taking another puff. If you are using corticosteroid medication, you should rinse your mouth after use. If you are unsure, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.


Using an atomizer can be a little more complicated, depending on the specific type of device you have.

We recommend that you familiarize yourself with your air compressor and how to operate it by reading the manual that came with the unit. You should also be familiar with all the atomizer parts.

Always wash your hands before handling your equipment and medications, and keep your equipment clean at all times. Then do the following:

  1. Connect the hose to the air compressor.
  2. Fill the medicine cup and connect it to the hose and nozzle.
  3. Place the mouthpiece between your teeth and seal it with your lips. If you are using a mask instead of a mouthpiece, just wear the mask.
  4. If you use a mouthpiece, you will need to breathe through your mouth instead of your nose until the medicine is completely gone. If you are using a mask, breathe normally.
  5. When the medication is used up, turn off the device and clean it properly.
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dry powder inhaler

  1. If you have a multidose inhaler, click the device to get it ready to use. If you have a single-dose inhaler, you will need to put the medication capsule into the chamber of the device.
  2. Exhale deeply.
  3. Hold the inhaler like a sandwich, place the mouthpiece between your teeth, and seal your lips around it.
  4. Take deep breaths, breathe fast. Hold your breath for about 10 seconds before exhaling.
  5. If you are using a single-dose inhaler, check the chamber to make sure the full dose has been used.
  6. Turn off the device and store in a clean and dry area.

When should an inhaler be used?

Some inhalers are used to prevent asthma attacks, not to treat acute attacks. These inhalers are used regularly. Rescue inhalers are used to treat acute asthma attacks.

People diagnosed with asthma should have something called an asthma action plan, which outlines specific steps that should be taken to prevent and treat asthma attacks. This includes when to use a rescue inhaler.

Most people with asthma need to use their rescue inhaler as soon as they experience symptoms such as shortness of breath or wheezing.

Risk factors for asthma attacks

potential side effects

While the exact side effects depend on the specific drug you inhale, most rescue inhalers can cause side effects such as:

  • sore throat or hoarse voice
  • Thrush (fungal infection of the mouth, throat, and esophagus)
  • cough
  • headache

Overuse of asthma medicines may exacerbate (worse) side effects. Use your medicines only as prescribed, follow your asthma action plan, and if you have any questions or concerns, contact your healthcare provider or pharmacist to avoid this.

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What to expect during a severe asthma attack


Inhalers are small devices that dilate the airways, allowing oxygen to flow. They are used to treat asthma. The main types of inhalers include metered dose inhalers, nebulizers, and dry powder inhalers. Each type is different, so be sure to carefully read the instructions for any inhaler used to treat asthma.

VigorTip words

Correct use of an inhaler is an important part of managing asthma and improving quality of life. Knowing how to use your inhaler correctly can give you peace of mind during an asthma attack. If you are not sure how to use your inhaler, talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How fast do inhalers work?

    This can depend on a variety of factors, including the specific drug inhaled and how your body metabolizes the drug. Maintenance inhalers that address underlying inflammation and are taken regularly do not work quickly, and it may take multiple doses to notice improvement. Rescue inhalers usually work very quickly within minutes after the dose is complete.

  • What does the inhaler contain?

    Inhalers can contain many different medications, but they usually belong to a specific class of medications, including corticosteroids or beta agonists.

  • How do you use the Ventolin inhaler?

    Ventolin (albuterol) is a rescue inhaler that is usually administered through a metered dose inhaler (MDI). Follow the instructions in this article to use MDI.

  • How soon can I drink water after using the inhaler?

    If you are using a corticosteroid inhaler, you should gargle with water and spit out the water immediately after use. However, after gargling, you can drink normally.

  • What happens if I don’t rinse my mouth after using the inhaler?

    The inside of your mouth may become irritated by exposure to the drug, or you may absorb the drug into your bloodstream. Rinsing your mouth afterwards can also reduce your chances of getting thrush, a fungal infection.