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Taking your asthma medicine regularly is an important part of controlling your asthma. But did you know how you take your medicine is just as important? Incorrect inhaler or nebulizer technique can keep your asthma medicines from getting to your lungs.

Inhaler mistakes are more common than you might think. Up to 92% of people with asthma use their device incorrectly.1 If your medicine isn’t reaching your lungs, your asthma might be harder to control.

Even if you’ve been using an inhaler for many years, it’s always a good idea to review your inhaler technique from time to time. This can help you avoid small mistakes. This is also especially important when you start taking a new type or brand of inhaler.

What Types of Asthma Devices Are Available?

The most commonly prescribed asthma medicines come in inhaler form or liquids to be used in a nebulizer.

These are the types of devices that deliver asthma medicine:

  • Metered dose inhaler (MDI)
  • Dry powder inhaler (DPI)
  • Breath actuated inhaler
  • Nebulizer

An MDI has an aerosol canister housed in a plastic mouthpiece. You squeeze the canister to release a puff of medicine. They deliver medicine best when used with a spacer or holding chamber.

A soft mist inhaler is a type of MDI that delivers medicine in a mist form.

A DPI delivers medicine as a dry powder. It delivers the medicine when you inhale.

A breath actuated inhaler looks like an MDI. But it is not a press-and-breathe inhaler. It works like a DPI – it delivers the medicine when you inhale.  

People with severe asthma, children or someone who is having an asthma attack may not have enough airflow to use a DPI or breath actuated inhaler.

Many inhalers need to be primed when first opened, and some may need to be primed before each use. This is especially true for MDIs and soft mist inhalers. Check your medicine’s instructions. Breath actuated inhalers (like a RediHaler™) and DPIs do not need to be primed.

Priming the inhaler means you spray it into the open air, away from anyone. This action gets the inhaler ready for use.

Nebulizers are machines that deliver asthma medicine in the form of a mist. Tubing and a mask are used to breathe in the medicine. Nebulizers are an option for anyone who has difficulty using an asthma inhaler, such as very young children.

If you aren’t sure what kind of device you have, or how to use it, ask your doctor to show you how to use it. Also ask for instructions if you get a new type or brand of inhaler.

How Do You Use and Care for Your Asthma Devices?

How you use your asthma device can affect your asthma control. If you use your devices incorrectly, medicine may not be getting to your lungs.

This video shows you how to use different types of inhalers so you can make sure your asthma medicine is getting to your lungs where it needs to be.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American (AAFA) has handouts on how to use MDIs, DPIs and breath actuated inhalers, and nebulizers. They also include instructions on how to keep your devices clean. Download our FREE handout “How to Properly Use Your Asthma Devices.”

Download, Print and Share

1. Bonds, R., Asawa, A. and Ghazi, A. (2015). Misuse of medical devices: a persistent problem in self-management of asthma and allergic disease. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, 114(1), pp.74-76.e2.

Knowing how to manage asthma is important for better health and quality of life. We also offer an online course called ASTHMA Care for Adults. This comprehensive program covers a full range of topics everyone with asthma needs to know. This FREE self-paced online course is presented in different formats, such as videos, animations, handouts and more.


The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) is the largest and oldest nonprofit patient organization dedicated to asthma and allergies. Our online community includes public blogs. To post a comment, you will need to register or sign in.


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