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Asthma: Ways to Take Inhaled Medicines

Topic Overview

When you use inhaled asthma medicine, you usually use a device that delivers the medicine directly to your lungs. Different types of delivery systems are available. And one type may be more suitable for certain people, age groups, or medicine than another. The following table describes how asthma medicines may be delivered.

Types of asthma medicines
Delivery system and medicines Age group What to think about

Use a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Adults and children
  • Doctors recommend the use of a spacer with a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). The spacer is attached to the MDI. A spacer may deliver the medicine to your child's lungs better than an inhaler alone and, for many people, is easier to use than an MDI alone. Using a spacer with inhaled corticosteroid medicine can help reduce their side effects and result in less use of oral corticosteroid medicine.
  • A spacer is recommended for children age 5 and older.
  • A spacer and a face mask are recommended for children younger than 5.
  • Using a spacer with an MDI may be just as effective as and less expensive than a nebulizer and can reduce the risk of an overdose.
  • If you don't use a spacer, you need to trigger a puff of medicine and inhale at the same time.

Use a dry powder inhaler (DPI) with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Corticosteroids.
  • Children 4 years and older and adults
  • How well it works may depend on how well you breathe in.
  • Your doctor determines the amount of medicine you use based on how much air you can breathe in. It also may be different than the amount used in some MDIs.
  • DPIs may be easy to use, but they may be difficult to use during an asthma attack because you need to be able to breathe well to get the best effect.

Use a nebulizer with:

  • Beta2-agonists.
  • Cromolyn.
  • Anticholinergics.
  • Any age that cannot use an MDI with a spacer
  • A nebulizer uses a face mask or mouthpiece to deliver the medicine.
  • The medicine can be given over a long period of time.
  • Nebulizers may be helpful for those who are ill, have serious difficulty breathing, or have trouble using an inhaler—especially infants, very young children, and older adults.
  • A nebulizer is not very precise in delivering medicine, and there is a risk of getting too much medicine (overdose).
  • A nebulizer needs electricity to turn the medicine into a fine mist. Some nebulizers have a large compressor that does this. Other ones are portable and come with batteries.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Rohit K Katial, MD - Allergy and Immunology
Current as of January 22, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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Asthma: Ways to Take Inhaled Medicines