There are many different types of inhaled medications these days, ranging from the old style inhalers in a pressured canister, to powders, to mists. The following instructions pertain to old style metered dose inhalers (MDI), the traditional asthma inhaler used for the past 50 years. Before you begin, a brand new MDI should be primed by puffing 4 doses into the air, as the first several doses do not contain proper amounts of the medication. This does not have to be done before each use, just when it is new.

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First, shake the inhaler and exhale fully.

Second, close your lips around the mouthpiece making sure your teeth do not block the way.

Third, puff the inhaler and start your inhalation at the SAME time. The inhalation should be SLOW, not fast, and should last 5 SECONDS.

Fourth, hold your breath for 10 seconds.

That’s it. You may run across minor variations to these instruction, but I have found these guidelines to be the easiest, most reliable way to teach patients how to properly use an MDI. The most common error is inhaling too quickly. A slow inhalation delivers more medication to the lungs compared to a fast one. Further, holding your breath for 10 seconds at the end is important, as this is when the medication spreads to the periphery of the lungs.

Michael Park, MD