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What Is the Difference Between Metered Dose Inhalers (MDIs) and Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs)?

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I've been struggling to get control of my asthma over the past several months. My pulmonologist prescribed several different inhalers. Unfortunately, I started having side effects to one of them. I was switched from an MDI to a DPI. What's the difference between the 2 types of inhalers?

There are different devices and methods of delivery of asthma medications. Two of these include inhalers include metered dose inhalers (MDIs) and dry powder inhalers (DPIs).

An MDI is a handheld aerosol device that uses a propellant to deliver medicine to the lungs. The advantages of MDIs include:

  • It is easy to carry around.
  • It can deliver multiple doses.
  • There is a low risk of bacterial contamination.

The disadvantages include:

  • The need for correct, coordinated use of the inhaler.
  • The potential for the medication to irritate the mouth and throat.

A DPI is a breath-actuated device. It delivers the drug in the form of particles in a capsule or blister. This is then punctured before use. The advantages of DPIs include:

  • It is breath actuated.
  • A spacer is not needed.
  • You do not need to hold your breath after each use.
  • It is very portable.
  • There is no propellant in the inhaler.

The disadvantages include:

  • The need to adequately breathe in the medicine.
  • The medicine may irritate the throat.
  • Humidity can cause the powder to clump in the inhaler and affect the delivery of the medicine to the lungs.
Asthma, Medicines
Answered by

John M. James, MD, is a board-certified allergist. He is also President of Food Allergy Consulting and Education Services, LLC. He has worked as a medical specialist in the field of allergy, asthma, and immunology for over 30 years. Dr. James received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Arkansas and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Tennessee. He is board certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology.

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