Asthma Inhalers

The albuterol inhaler (often referred to as a metered dose inhaler or simply MDI) has revolutionized asthma treatment and is the most commonly used bronchodilator medication on the market. The other good news is that in the vast majority of cases, an inhaler is all that’s required for both child and adult asthma sufferers to control their condition.

The Albuterol inhaler has revolutionized asthma treatment.

Albuterol is an inhaled bronchodilator that relaxes the muscles in the respiratory tract and dilates the airways to improve breathing. Prescribed usage might be one or two sprays every four to six hours, for example, depending on the severity of the condition and the attacks.

How to use your inhaler for maximum effect:

Shake the canister thoroughly to ensure even dispersal of the drug in the propellant.

  1. Hold the canister upright. This is important! If you don’t do this properly, the internal metering chamber won’t fill the next dose correctly.
  2. Hold the inhaler 1 to 2 inches away from your open mouth (or use a spacer).
  3. Activate the inhaler.
  4. Breathe in steadily and slowly.
  5. Continue to inhale fully after the spray of asthma medicine has been delivered.
  6. Hold your breath for a count of 5 to 10 seconds.
  7. If you need two sprays do not deliver both during the same inhalation. Most asthma inhalers recommend waiting one minute between deliveries.

The Inhaler Spacer

A new tool known as the spacer is available for people who have difficulty using the inhaler. They are especially useful for young children. Spacers attach to the end of the inhaler and act as a holding chamber for medication. The chamber allows for a slow, deep inhalation of medicine particles, increasing the amount of medication that enters the lung, and reducing the amount that falls into the mouth.


Frequent use of inhaled medication can lead to thrush, an infection of the mouth. Thrush can be uncomfortable and painful. To prevent thrush, clean the mouthpiece of your inhaler after each treatment and rinse the inside of your mouth out with water. If using a spacer, follow the manufacturers cleaning instructions (generally once a week in warm soapy water). A simple mouth rinse can also prevent some of the side effects that inhaled medication can have.

Albuterol Inhaler vs. Oral Medications

As an asthma treatment, the albuterol inhaler wins hands down for asthma symptoms compared with oral pills or syrups.

The reason? When swallowing pills or syrup, the drugs must pass through the stomach into the small intestine. This can take up to an hour or two. The drugs must then be absorbed into the blood vessels and carried (in diluted form) to the lungs. The systemic absorption of medication can also lead to side effects like rapid heart rate or shakiness. The albuterol inhaler short-circuits this drawn out process. It goes directly to its target: the lungs.

Nebulizers: How They Differ from Inhalers

A nebulizer is a device that converts liquid asthma medication into a cloud of tiny aerosol particles. The device is driven by a compressed air machine. The nebulizer consists of a cup, a mouthpiece (usually attached to a mask) and thin plastic tubing that connects the mouthpiece to the compressed air machine.

Nebulizers have one big advantage over ordinary inhalers: They can deliver a smaller particle size of the drug that can travel deeper into the airways and control an asthma attack, even when movement of breath in and out of the lungs is severely reduced.

Used extensively in hospitals, nebulizers are particularly effective for the treatment of three categories of asthmatics:

  • infants and children under the age of five years
  • adults and children who, for whatever reason, are unable to use a normal albuterol inhaler
  • any age group suffering from a severe asthma attack.

Mixing Albuterol With Other Medications

Albuterol can be mixed with other medications like atropine to prolong its effects. Occasionally, albuterol is mixed with medications that prevent asthma attacks; these prophylactic medications, like cromolyn sodium, prevent the onset of another attack.

Cromolyn: Cromolyn, an anti-inflammatory asthma medicine, is used routinely to prevent the onset of an asthma attack. Its function is to prevent the airways from swelling up when they come into contact with an asthma trigger. Cromolyn is not effective once the attack is under way. Cromolyn is used in both asthma inhalers and nebulizers. The drug is often used for the specific prevention of exercise-induced asthma or before entering situations when a known asthma trigger is present.

Corticosteroids and Inhaled Steroids

The introduction of steroid inhalers in recent years has provided new benefits to asthma sufferers. Steroid inhalers are from the family of corticosteroids, a class of medication that reduces inflammation. Corticosteroids are identical to (or simulate the actions of) natural steroid hormones.

For years, people with severe asthma depended on corticosteroids such as prednisone in pill form to relieve debilitating symptoms. These synthetic steroids are generally far more powerful than the natural hormones hydrocortisone and corticosterone and are responsible for some serious side effects if taken frequently over time.

Inhaled steroids allow the medication to be deposited to the lung rather than absorbed by the entire body. Direct application to the lungs means a smaller dose can be used to relieve symptoms and absorption of the medication to other parts of the body is prevented thus reducing unpleasant side effects. It is important to note that inhaled steroids will not offer any relief in the event of an asthma attack.

Take Only as Prescribed

Inhaled steroids must be taken as ordered by the doctor. Interrupted doses or complete failure to take the medication cannot provide any relief of asthma symptoms.

The same care should be taken with albuterol inhalers and other bronchodilator inhalers. Asthma treatment with albuterol inhalers is meant to provide instant relief but should only be taken as prescribed. Overuse of bronchodilator inhalers can produce negative results and lead to irreversible asthma conditions. If your inhaler is not providing enough relief, consult your doctor.

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National Jewish Medical and Research Center. (nd). Asthma treatments and asthma medications.

Rubins, J., Hale, K.L. (nd). Asthma. (nd). Asthma: Treatment.