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COPD: Using Inhalers

Some COPD medications are taken using inhalers. Inhalers deliver measured doses of medication into your lungs. Not all inhalers work the same way. Have your health care provider show you how to use your inhaler.

Woman exhaling.

Woman using metered-dose inhaler with spacer.

Using metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) with spacers

Metered-dose inhalers deliver medication with a fine spray. You may also use a spacer (holding tube) with your inhaler. The spacer makes it easier for all of the medication to get into your lungs.

  1. Remove the caps from the inhaler and spacer. Shake the inhaler well and attach the spacer. Make sure to follow any special instructions if the inhaler is being used for the first time or has not been used for a while.

  2. Breathe out normally. Put the spacer between your teeth and close your lips tightly around it. Keep your chin level.

  3. Spray 1 puff into the spacer by pressing down on the inhaler. Then slowly breathe in as deeply as you can. This should take 3 to 5 seconds. (If you breathe in too quickly, you may hear a whistling sound in the spacer.)

  4. Take the spacer out of your mouth. Hold your breath for a count of 10 (if possible). Then slowly breathe out. If a second dose is prescribed, wait at least 30 seconds before taking the next puff.

Using MDIs without spacers

Inhalers work best with spacers. But if you don’t use one, follow these steps:

  1. Shake the inhaler and remove the cap. Breathe out through your mouth.

  2. Put the inhaler mouthpiece in your mouth and close your lips tightly around it. (Or, if told to do so by your health care provider, hold the inhaler 1 to 2 inches from your mouth.)

  3. Keep your chin level. Spray 1 puff by pressing down on the inhaler while breathing in deeply through your mouth for about 5 seconds. Hold your breath for a count of 10. Then breathe out slowly. If a second dose is prescribed, wait at least 30 seconds before taking the next puff.

Using dry-powder inhalers (DPIs)

Man using a dry-power inhaler.

Man breathing out.

Some inhalers use tiny grains of powder to deliver medication. These don’t require spacers. They often have counters that track how many doses you use. Dry-powder inhalers don’t all work the same way. Be sure you know how to use yours properly.

  1. Load the prescribed dose of medication by following the instructions that come with the inhaler.

  2. Breathe out normally, holding the inhaler away from your mouth. Hold your chin level.

  3. Put the mouthpiece between your lips. Breathe in quickly and deeply through the inhaler—not through your nose. You may not feel or taste the medication as you breathe in. This is normal.

  4. Take the mouthpiece out of your mouth. Hold your breath for a count of 10 (if possible).

  5. Breathe out slowly—but not through the inhaler. Moisture from your breath can make the powder stick inside the inhaler. Also, be sure to close the inhaler and store it in a dry place.


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