Dos and Don'ts for COPD Inhalers

Inhaled medications are some of the foundations of treatment for COPD. Since COPD is a disease of the airways, it makes sense that medications inhaled right into those airways would be highly effective. These types of medications are transmitted into the mouth and then on to the airways through a plastic device that can disseminate the drug in either a vaporized mist or in a fine dry powder form.

Inhaled medications are used both for ongoing maintenance treatment as well as to occasionally treat COPD flares when needed. Some people with COPD also are prescribed medications that are inhaled via a nebulizer device. This article does not address nebulizers.

Although inhaled medications are widely prescribed in COPD, knowing how to use them correctly is not always easy. If you don't use your inhaler correctly, then you may not be getting the most from your medication. So, let's look at some "dos" and "don'ts" of inhalers.

Inhaler Don'ts

  • Don't let your inhaler run out. Some inhalers have counters on them, but not all do.
  • Don't exhale into your inhaler; only inhale from it.
  • Don't try to wash dry powder inhalers (DPI, for short).
  • Don't try to take a DPI apart.
  • Don't rely on a rescue inhaler as daily treatment; if you need to use it every day, be sure to notify your doctor. You may need a dose change on your maintenance inhaler or other treatment.

Inhaler Dos

  • Do take 1 to 2 deep breaths in and out before using the inhaler, then breathe in deeply as you activate the device.
  • Do hold your breath for about 10 seconds after inhaling the medication.
  • Do rinse your mouth out with water afterward and spit out the water, especially if your inhaler contains a steroid.
  • Do wash the plastic inhaler device in a metered dose inhaler regularly. (Does not apply to DPIs.)
  • Do check expiration dates on your inhalers to make sure they are still effective (especially rescue inhalers).
  • Do keep track of how many doses are left in your inhaler. If there is no counter, then track your doses on a calendar.
  • Do store DPIs in a dry place at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
  • Do wait 1 minute between puffs with a rescue inhaler; waiting is not necessary between puffs of other inhalers.
  • Do ask a respiratory therapist, physician or nurse to observe your inhaler technique.
  • Do be open with your health care professional about how the inhaler is working for you.

In Summary

Inhaled COPD medications are safe and effective, when used properly. For your health's sake and to get the most from your medication, take the time to learn the all the dos and don'ts of inhaler use. Your airways will thank you.

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