Inhalers and nebulizers are two different ways to get asthma medicines directly into the lungs. Most teens with asthma will use an inhaler.
Inhalers are handheld devices that deliver medicine. They're small enough to carry in a pocket, purse, or backpack. There are a couple of different kinds:
Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs)
This is the kind of inhaler doctors prescribe most for teens. MDIs work a bit like mini-aerosol cans. When the person squeezes the inhaler, it releases a measured puff of medicine.
Some MDIs have counters that show how many doses are left in the inhaler. If you use an MDI that doesn't have a counter, you need to keep track of the number of puffs taken. That's important because inhalers spray even when there's no medicine left. Writing down the number of puffs helps you know when it's time to get a new inhaler.
With an MDI, you need to squeeze the inhaler and breathe the medicine into the lungs right away. If you don't breathe in at exactly the right moment, the medicine may end up in your mouth instead of in your lungs. Using a spacer helps prevent this from happening.
A spacer is a kind of holding chamber for medicine. It attaches to the inhaler on one end and to a mouthpiece or mask on the other end. When you push down on your inhaler, the medicine stays in the spacer until you're ready to breathe it in.
With a spacer, it usually takes a couple of minutes (or less) to get medicine into your lungs.
Dry Powder Inhalers
Like the name says, dry powder inhalers deliver medicine as a powder. The powder is also breathed in, but it doesn't spray out. You need to do more of the work by inhaling the powdered medicine quickly and strongly.
Nebulizers are machines that turn liquid asthma medicine into a fine mist. The person with asthma breathes the mist into the lungs.
Babies and younger kids often use nebulizers because they don't have to do anything — they just sit in one place and get their medicine.
Nebulizers take at least 5 or 10 minutes to deliver the medicine. They can be a bit bulky and noisy, and might not be that easy to carry around.
Medicines that get breathed in are a key part of asthma treatment for most people. They work to prevent flare-ups from happening and they help keep flare-ups from getting really bad. But inhalers can be tricky to use. Your doctor might ask you to take a puff from your inhaler during an office visit to check your technique and be sure the medicine is getting to where it's needed.
If you have questions about your inhaler, ask someone on your asthma care team. They're there to answer your questions. They want to be sure that the inhaler you're using is the right one for you. If the medicine isn't getting to your lungs where it's needed, it's not doing any good!
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American Lung Association The mission of this group is to prevent lung disease and promote lung health. Contact the group at: American Lung Association|
61 Broadway, 6th Floor
NY, NY 10006
|AIRNow A cross-agency U.S. government website, AIRNow provides useful air quality information, including daily Air Quality Index forecasts and details on conditions in more than 300 U.S. cities.|
|Dealing With Asthma Triggers Triggers are substances or activities that are harmless to most people. But in people with asthma, they can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Read this article for tips on dealing with asthma triggers.|
|Ozone, Air Quality, and Asthma Ozone and other things that pollute the air can be problems for people with asthma and can cause asthma flare-ups. Find out how to deal with ozone.|
|What's an Asthma Action Plan? An asthma action plan, or management plan, is a written plan that helps you take control of your asthma. Get the details in this article.|
|How Do Asthma Medicines Work? Two different types of medicines are used to treat asthma: rescue medications and controller medications. Read about their benefits - and differences.|
|Asthma Center Visit our Asthma Center for information and advice on managing and living with asthma.|
|Dealing With an Asthma Flare-Up Asthma flare-ups, or attacks, can be handled, but it's even better if you can prevent them from happening. Find out how to deal with flare-ups.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.