How Do Inhalers Work?

Written by lori newell
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How Do Inhalers Work?


If you are living with asthma or some other type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may need to use an inhaler. There are many different types of inhalers, and you will need to work with your medical provider to find the right choice for your situation. Inhalers are designed to be part of an overall treatment program to help you manage your symptoms. They deliver medication directly to your lungs whenever and wherever you need it. Always read the directions that come with your specific inhaler to make sure you are using it properly.

Control Your Symptoms

Asthma and other forms of COPD are chronic conditions in which the lungs become over-sensitive to allergens, infections, temperature, odours and particles in the environment. The lungs become irritated, which makes it hard to breathe. There is often excess mucus production as well. In order to control your symptoms, you need to manage both airway inflammation and constriction. Inhalers are one way that medication can be delivered to the body. There are two types of medications used in inhalers. One type is designed to be used on a daily basis and is for long-term control. The other type is meant for quick relief and is used during an attack to help control symptoms.


Inhalers consist of pressurised canisters of medication and mouthpieces. They are often called "metered dose," as only the right amount of medication will be dispensed with each use. First you must shake the inhaler. This helps to mix the ingredients in the canister so that each dose contains just the right blend of medication, propellant and other ingredients. As you press on the inhaler to dispense the medication, you breathe it in so that medication can then get into the lungs. After the medication is dispensed, more medication moves into the measured chamber for the next time you need to use your inhaler. Most inhalers also have valves or spacers to help control the flow and direction of the medication. Spacers are extra pieces that are placed between the mouthpiece and your mouth. They slow the delivery of the medication and get more medication to the lungs instead of in the mouth. Other inhalers have a flow-sensing device to help you learn to control the speed and depth of your inhalation.

How Do Inhalers Work?

Daily Controller Inhalers

Daily controller inhalers usually contain anti-inflammatory medication such as inhaled corticosteroids, bronchodilators or leukotriene modifiers. The latter are drugs that block the activity of chemicals called leukotrienes, which are involved in airway inflammation. The medications in inhalers work by opening airways and reducing inflammation. They help to reduce swelling and mucus production so you can breathe easier.

Quick Relief Inhalers

These inhalers are not designed to be used on a daily basis. They also contain medications called bronchodilators. They work by temporarily relaxing the muscles around the airways to allow you to breathe. Bronchodilators open up the bronchial tubes so that air can move through more freely. When your airways are more open, the mucus can be coughed out more easily so you can breathe. This effect usually lasts for about four to six hours. Overuse of quick relief inhalers usually means you need to change the amount of your daily controller medications.

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