What’s Your Inhaler IQ?

Using an inhaler seems so simple: You push the button, you breathe in the medicine, you feel better. But are you really getting as much medicine as you need? Many people use their inhalers improperly, making it harder for them to control their asthma. Take this short quiz to see how much you know about these often-misused devices.

1. All metered dose inhalers (the most common type) are essentially the same — if you’ve tried one, you’ve tried them all. True or false?



The correct answer is: False.

Different inhalers require different techniques. Follow the instructions exactly and talk to your doctor if you have any questions or problems.

2. If you feel the medicine hit your tongue or the back of your throat, you’ve probably made a mistake. True or false?



The correct answer is: True.

Medicine that hits your throat or tongue isn’t getting to your lungs. This may be a sign that you’re breathing in at the wrong time, or aren’t holding the inhaler correctly. Try holding the inhaler one or two inches from your mouth. (With some inhalers, you may be able to put your lips directly on the mouthpiece.) Then start breathing in slowly while you release the medication. You may also want to consider using a spacer. If you are using a dry powder inhaler, inhaling the medicine more rapidly is the best technique.

3. How long should you hold your breath after inhaling the medicine?

a. Two seconds.

b. Five seconds.

c. Ten seconds.

d. As long as you can.

The correct answer is: c. Ten seconds

This gives the medicine enough time to settle into your lungs.

4. Who should consider using a spacer, a tube that carries the medicine from the inhaler to the mouth?

a. Young children.

b. Anyone taking corticosteroids.

c. Anyone having trouble using their inhaler.

d. All of the above.

The correct answer is: d. All of the above.

Spacers make inhalers easier to use — you don’t have to breathe in and release the medicine at the same exact moment. They also help deliver the medicine directly to the lungs. This is especially helpful for people taking corticosteroids, drugs that can cause unpleasant side effects if they settle in the mouth or throat.

5. Which of these statements about spacers is FALSE?

a. Spacers help reduce side effects of medications.

b. You should fill the spacer with several blasts before inhaling to get the most medicine possible.

c. Spacers help get more medicine to the lungs.

d. In general, larger spacers work better than smaller spacers.

The correct answer is: b.

Doing this will leave a lot of medicine stuck to the inside of the spacer. Instead, you should fill the chamber with a single blast and inhale promptly.

6. All inhalers are used for the same purpose. True or false?



The correct answer is: False.

Some inhalers are used as “relievers” and others are used as “controllers.” Albuterol is the primary “reliever,” while inhaled steroids are the primary “controllers.” The relievers are meant to be used only for acute symptoms. The controllers are necessary for cases in which the reliever inhalers are needed more than twice a week, and the controllers need to be used daily. People who rely on relievers on a daily basis are more at risk for acute hospitalization than those who rely on controllers for daily control of their asthma. Using relievers on a daily basis is usually a sign that the asthma is not well controlled and needs better management with your physician’s help.


American Diabetes Association .

American Academy of Family Physicians. Metered-Dose Inhaler: How to Use it Correctly.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Asthma (Expert Panel 3). July 2007.

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