Inhaler Use in the Hospital: What to Expect and How It May Differ from Home
Last updated: May 2023
Editor's Note: Please note that each hospital admission is unique, and the following account represents only one perspective.
When you come to the hospital, things will be different than at home. I’m not referring to how you will probably be sick if you need to be admitted. I’m not referring to you being in a hospital bed or recliner.
What I am referring to is your COPD routine. When you are admitted, you may have your routine adjusted somewhat.
What to expect with inhaler use in the hospital
I will give a few examples of what I am referring to.
You won’t get to keep your rescue inhaler under your pillow
Trust me. I have had many COPD patients over the years. Like us asthmatics, many of you always like to keep your rescue inhaler nearby.
I am guilty of this myself. If I wake up at night and feel tight, I roll over, grab my inhaler from under my pillow, take my two puffs, and then go back to sleep if I can.
In the hospital, you won’t be allowed to do this. Instead, I will say, “If you feel short of breath anytime, tell your nurse, and your nurse will contact me. I have you at the top of my list of priorities, and I will give you your rescue medicine ASAP."
We don’t let patients keep their rescue inhalers because we like to monitor how often they need them. If you are puffing on your inhaler all night and not telling us, we might think you are getting better when you are not. So, it’s a safety thing.
You likely will get breathing treatments
Every hospital is different. But at my hospital, we rarely give rescue inhalers until you feel better.
What we do is give rescue medicine using nebulizers. And, of course, we refer to this as breathing treatments.
Usually, you will get breathing treatments four times a day. Or, if you are struggling to breathe, we will probably set up a schedule of every four hours.
If you get short of breath in between treatments, we usually have an order for as-needed rescue medicine by breathing treatment.
There are a lot of theories on why we do it this way. Many studies are showing that, with proper inhaler technique, inhalers work just as well as breathing treatments.
But breathing treatments may be the better option when you are short of breath and have trouble inhaling. They allow you to inhale the medicine over a period of time. So you will inhale the medicine regardless of how well you breathe.
Plus, I think doctors just like breathing treatments better than inhalers. So, even if you don’t use them at home, in the hospital, you will probably be getting breathing treatments.
You will use a controller inhaler and it may not be the same brand you use at home
This is a big one for many of my COPD patients. Like us asthmatics, COPD patients tend to become stubborn about switching inhalers.
This is especially true when you find one that works well for you.
But, if you take controller inhalers at home, you will still get them in the hospital. While the inhaler may look different, you are still getting the same medicine.
The inhaler you get in the hospital may use a different inhalation device than you are used to. For instance, two inhaler devices we use in our hospital are metered dose inhalers (MDI) and the respimat device.
The methods for using both of these are somewhat different. We will teach you how to use them properly.
Your inhaler technique will be monitored
I do this for all of my COPD patients. It is not because we don’t trust that you can use inhalers. It’s because most people who use inhalers do not use the proper technique.
This is important, as a proper technique can ensure you get the most out of your inhalers.
Also, even experts like me are shown not to use proper techniques. I think of it this way: Professional baseball players like Aaron Judge sometimes go into slumps and this is why they have to coaches monitor their hits.
If he goes into a slump, make recommendations on adjustments Aaron can make to get back on track. It’s the same way with using inhalers. Coaching makes sure we continue using proper techniques.
Your own personal routine
Have you ever been admitted to the hospital? Was the routine in the hospital similar or different from your home routine?
Please let us know in the comments below.
Does your COPD make running errands more difficult?
Join the conversation