Asthma inhalers: Which one's right for you?

Here's information that will help you weigh the pros and cons of different asthma inhalers.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Asthma inhalers are hand-held, portable devices that deliver medication to your lungs. A variety of asthma inhalers are available to help control asthma symptoms. Finding the right one and using it correctly can help you get the medication you need to prevent or treat asthma attacks.

To find the best inhaler for you, you need to find a balance between the correct medication and the type of inhaler that suits your needs and your ability to use the inhaler correctly. Training from your doctor or other health care provider is essential for learning to use the device you choose correctly.

Metered dose inhalers

These inhalers consist of a pressurized canister containing medication that fits into a boot-shaped plastic mouthpiece. With most metered dose inhalers, medication is released by pushing the canister into the boot.

One type of metered dose inhaler releases medication automatically when you inhale. Some metered dose inhalers have counters so that you know how many doses remain. If there's no counter, you'll need to track the number of doses you've used or purchase a separate electronic dose counter to tell when the inhaler is low on medication.

In some cases, such as for children or older adults, using a spacer or valved holding chamber with an inhaler might make it easier to inhale the full dose. A spacer holds medication in a tube between the inhaler and your mouth after it's released. A valved holding chamber is a specialized spacer with a one-way valve to help regulate the flow of medication.

Releasing the medication into the spacer allows you to inhale more slowly, increasing the amount that reaches your lungs. Spacers and holding chambers require a prescription.

There are inhalers with built-in spacers. Others can be used with a spacer that attaches to the inhaler.

Dry powder inhaler

Rather than a chemical propellant to push the medication out of the inhaler, you release the medication in these inhalers by breathing in a deep, fast breath. There are multiple-dose devices, which hold up to 200 doses, and single dose devices, which you fill with a capsule before each treatment.

June 30, 2017 See more In-depth