Breathing Problems: Using a Metered-Dose Inhaler

Overview

A metered-dose inhaler lets you breathe medicine into your lungs quickly. Inhaled medicine works faster than the same medicine in a pill. An inhaler allows you to take less medicine than you would need if you took it as a pill.

"Metered-dose" means that the inhaler gives a measured amount of medicine each time you use it. A metered-dose inhaler gives medicine in the form of a liquid mist.

Your doctor may want you to use a spacer with your inhaler. A spacer is a chamber that you attach to the inhaler. The chamber holds the medicine before you inhale it. That way, you can inhale the medicine in as many breaths as you need. Doctors recommend using a spacer with most metered-dose inhalers. This is even more important when using corticosteroid medicines.

How to use the inhaler

Getting started

To get started:

  • Talk with your doctor to be sure you are using your inhaler the right way. It might help if you practice using it in front of a mirror. Use the inhaler exactly as prescribed.
  • Check that you have the correct medicine. If you use more than one inhaler, put a label on each one. This will let you know which one to use at the right time.
  • Keep track of how much medicine is in the inhaler. Check the label to see how many doses are in the container. If you know how many puffs you can take, you can replace the inhaler before you run out. Ask your health care provider how you can keep track of how much medicine is left.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a spacer with your inhaler. Spacers make it easier to get the medicine into your lungs. You may need a spacer if you are using corticosteroid medicines. A spacer can also help if you have problems pressing the inhaler and breathing in at the same time.
  • If you are using a corticosteroid inhaler, gargle and rinse out your mouth with water after use. Do not swallow the water. Swallowing the water will increase the chance that the medicine will get into your bloodstream. This may make it more likely that you will have side effects.

Using the inhaler with a spacer

Shake the inhaler and remove its cap: Step 1

Person shaking inhaler, then taking cap off inhaler mouthpiece.
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slide 1 of 8, Shake the inhaler and remove its cap: Step 1,

Shake the inhaler and remove the inhaler cap. Check the inhaler instructions to see if you need to prime your inhaler before you use it. If it needs priming, follow the instructions on how to do it.

Place the mouthpiece into the spacer: Step 2

Person putting mouthpiece of meter-dose inhaler into end of spacer.
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slide 2 of 8, Place the mouthpiece into the spacer: Step 2,

Place the mouthpiece of the inhaler into the end of spacer.

Remove the spacer cap: Step 3

Person removing cap from end of inhaler opposite where inhaler was inserted.
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slide 3 of 8, Remove the spacer cap: Step 3,

Remove the cap from the end of the spacer.

Hold the inhaler upright: Step 4

Person holding inhaler and spacer so that inhaler mouthpiece is at bottom.
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slide 4 of 8, Hold the inhaler upright: Step 4,

Hold the inhaler upright with the mouthpiece at the bottom.

Breathe out slowly and completely: Step 5

Person tilting head back slightly, holding up spacer near mouth, and slowly breathing out.
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slide 5 of 8, Breathe out slowly and completely: Step 5,

Stand or sit up straight. Tilt your head back slightly and breathe out slowly and completely.

Place the spacer's mouthpiece: Step 6

Person placing spacer mouthpiece into mouth.
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slide 6 of 8, Place the spacer's mouthpiece: Step 6,

Place the spacer's mouthpiece in your mouth.

Press down on the inhaler and breathe in: Step 7

Person pressing down on inhaler to release medicine into spacer, then breathing in.
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slide 7 of 8, Press down on the inhaler and breathe in: Step 7,

Press down on the inhaler to spray one puff of medicine into the spacer and then start breathing in slowly and deeply. (Press first, then breathe in.)

Wait for 10 seconds: Step 8

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slide 8 of 8, Wait for 10 seconds: Step 8,

Hold your breath for 10 seconds, to give the medicine time to settle in your lungs. Then breathe out slowly.

If you need to take a second dose, wait 30 to 60 seconds to allow the inhaler valve to refill.

Using the inhaler without a spacer

Shake inhaler and remove cap: Step 1

Person shaking inhaler, then removing cap from inhaler mouthpiece.
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slide 1 of 6, Shake inhaler and remove cap: Step 1,

Shake the inhaler as directed, and remove the cap. Check the inhaler instructions to see if you need to prime your inhaler before you use it. If it needs priming, follow the instructions for how to do it.

Hold inhaler upright: Step 2

Person holding inhaler upright, with mouthpiece on bottom facing mouth.
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slide 2 of 6, Hold inhaler upright: Step 2,

Hold the inhaler upright with the mouthpiece at the bottom.

Tilt head back and breathe out: Step 3

Person slightly tilting back head, then breathing out.
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slide 3 of 6, Tilt head back and breathe out: Step 3,

Stand or sit up straight. Tilt your head back slightly, and breathe out slowly and completely.

Position the inhaler: Step 4

Two positions shown for using inhaler, one in mouth with lips closed around mouthpiece, and one placed 1 to 2 inches from open mouth.
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slide 4 of 6, Position the inhaler: Step 4,

There are two ways to position the inhaler when using it without a spacer. You can place the inhaler in your mouth. Or you can hold the inhaler 1 in. (2.5 cm) to 2 in. (5.0 cm) in front of your open mouth, without closing your lips over it. This method may be better for getting the medicine into your lungs. But some people may find this too hard to do.

Start breathing in and press on the inhaler: Step 5

Person placing inhaler close to open mouth and pressing down on inhaler as they breathe in.
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slide 5 of 6, Start breathing in and press on the inhaler: Step 5,

Start to breathe in slowly, evenly, and deeply; press down on the inhaler one time (start to breathe in, then press); and continue to breathe in slowly.

Hold your breath: Step 6

Person holding breath while looking at watch.
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slide 6 of 6, Hold your breath: Step 6,

Hold your breath for 10 seconds. This will let the medicine settle in your lungs. Then breathe out slowly.

If you need to take a second dose, wait 30 to 60 seconds to allow the inhaler valve to refill.

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine