Inhalers

Easy-to-read information about inhaler devices – what are they, different types available and how to use them.

An inhaler is a device used to deliver medicine to the lungs and airways. It is mainly used to treat or prevent diseases of the airways such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or cystic fibrosis. By getting medicine directly to the lungs, smaller doses of medicine are needed and it can start working more quickly.

What are the different types of inhalers?

The main types of inhaler devices are metered dose inhalers and dry powder inhalers.

Metered dose inhalers
  • Metered dose inhalers are also called MDIs or aerosol inhalers.
  • An MDI delivers the medication in an aerosol form. It consists of a pressurised canister inside a plastic case, with a mouthpiece attached.
  • MDIs require good technique and coordination with pressing down on the inhaler and breathing in at the same time.
  • Because using the inhaler correctly can be difficult, spacer devices are recommended for use with MDIs. The spacer is attached to the MDI to make it easier to use the inhaler and get more medicine into the lungs.
Dry powder inhalers

Deciding on the right inhaler for you

  • Inhaled medicines are an important part of asthma and COPD care.
  • Because inhalers come in many different shapes and sizes, you can find the one that suits you best, by talking with your doctor or asthma educator. No medicines are available in all inhalation devices. You may want to try a range of devices before choosing the one which you are most comfortable with.
  • Here are some points to consider:

Type of inhaler Advantages Disadvantages
Metered dose inhaler (MDI)
  • Widely available for most inhaled medicines.
  • Small, easy to carry (unless used with a spacer).
  • Requires good co-ordination technique — have to press down and breathe in at the same time.
  • Recommended to be used with a spacer.
  • Has a propellant that can sometimes cause throat irritation and affects the amount that reaches the lungs.
Dry powder inhalers such as Turbohalers, Accuhalers
  • Does not contain a propellant.
  • Does not require co-ordination of breathing in and pressing down.
  • Not suitable for young children.
  • Not recommended in people who cannot breathe in strongly enough to inhale the powder.
Inhalation powder in hard capsule such Spiriva and Seebri 

  • Small and easy to carry around.
  • Does not contain a propellant.
  • Does not require co-ordination of breathing in and pressing down.
  • Each dose needs to be loaded immediately before use.
  • Requires deep inhalation (breathing in) to receive the full dose from the capsule.
  • Requires second breath to ensure the full dose from the capsule has been inhaled.
Soft mist inhalers such as Spiriva Respimat, Spiolto Respimat
  • Compact and easy to carry around.
  • Does not require much co-ordination of breathing in and releasing the dose, as an MDI.
  • Does not require a spacer.
  • More medication reaches the lung, compared with an MDI.  
  • Every new inhaler must be loaded with a new medicine cartridge.
  • Does need some strength and dexterity to assemble the inhaler.  

In situations where using an inhaler device is unsuitable, your doctor may recommend the use of a nebuliser. Read more about nebulisers.

Why is the correct inhaler technique important?

  • To get the most benefit from the medication, it is important to use the correct technique when using your inhaler device. This ensures you receive the right amount of medication and that it reaches deep inside your lungs.
  • Ask your doctor, pharmacist, or nurse to explain how to use your inhaler device.
  • Even if you've had asthma or COPD for a long time and have used the same inhaler for years, it's still worth reminding yourself regularly how they work.

Learn more

 Understanding your inhaler The Asthma Foundation

References

  1. Gupta S. How to ensure the correct inhaler device is selected for each patient.Clinical Pharmacist July/August 2009
  2. Inhaler technique in adults with asthma or COPD. National Asthma Council Australia.
Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 02 Sep 2014