How to Use an Inhaler for COPD

Was this helpful?
middle aged Caucasian woman sitting on couch using inhaler

Living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be challenging. COPD is a chronic lung disease that can make it harder to breathe. You might experience symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, wheezing, and more. In many cases, doctors recommend using an inhaler along with oral medications to keep any COPD symptoms in check. COPD inhalers release small doses of medicine as a mist you inhale into your lungs.

But you may have questions about COPD inhalers, especially if you’ve never used one before. It can take practice to get it right, but following simple inhaler instructions can help ensure you get the proper dose of your medication each time you use your inhaler. Be sure to ask your doctor about any specific questions you have as you learn how to use an inhaler.

Breathing Through COPD: Treatment Options

Understanding Inhalers for COPD

Keeping your COPD symptoms manageable may require a combination of medications that you must take every day. Some people benefit from oral drugs, like prescription steroids, while others use inhalers to deliver medication directly to the lungs. Doctors prescribe several types of inhaler medications for COPD, including:

  • Bronchodilators: These medications relax airway muscles, making breathing easier. They may be used for COPD flare-ups as rapid-acting drugs. Alternatively, long-acting bronchodilators help keep airways open for several hours.

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: Inhaled steroids help decrease inflammation within your lungs. Also, many anti-inflammatory medications help reduce the amount of mucus in your airways.

  • Combination medications: In some cases, doctors prescribe inhalers containing a combination of bronchodilators and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Inhaler Instructions

Each type of COPD inhaler consists of a small canister of medication and a mouthpiece. Following these inhaler instructions helps make sure you inhale the correct amount of medication into your lungs.

  1. First, hold your inhaler upright and remove the cap that’s over the mouthpiece. Then, gently shake your inhaler.

  2. Breathe out (exhale) while tilting your head back slightly.

  3. Place the inhaler mouthpiece in your mouth, making a seal around the mouthpiece with your lips. Then, press down on the medication canister to release the pressurized medication. Breathe in (inhale) slowly for three to five seconds while pushing down on the inhaler.

  4. To allow the medication to get into your lungs deeply, hold your breath for 10 seconds.

  5. Exhale, and repeat the process if your doctor instructs you to. Wait about one minute between each puff.

Using an Inhaler with a Spacer

Some doctors recommend using a valved holding chamber, or spacer, to make using your COPD inhaler easier. Spacers are long, hollow tubes that attach to the mouthpiece of your inhaler. When you press down on the medication canister, the puff of medicine is released into the spacer. Then, you slowly inhale the medication out of the spacer.

If you use a spacer with your inhaler, follow the same inhaler instructions for devices without spacers. Be sure to inhale the puff of medication from inside the spacer slowly. You’ll know if you’re breathing in too quickly if you hear a horn-like sound.

Cleaning Your Inhaler

It’s important to clean your inhaler and spacer to make sure you continue to receive the correct dose of medication each time you use it. To clean your inhaler, simply remove the medication canister from the mouthpiece. Rinse the mouthpiece and its cap in warm water, then let air dry overnight. Only put the medication canister back into the mouthpiece when the mouthpiece is completely dry.

Some inhalers don’t allow you to remove the medication canister. If you have this type of inhaler, you should clean the mouthpiece with a cloth or dry cotton swab.

To clean your spacer, first detach it from the mouthpiece of your inhaler. Remove the soft ring at the end, then soak your spacer in warm water with a mild soap. Rinse the spacer and shake off excess water, then allow it to air dry completely.

Learning to use a COPD inhaler can be tricky, but following simple inhaler directions helps you learn how to use your inhaler properly. Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice for using your inhaler, and let him or her know if you continue to have trouble using it. Your doctor can help you figure out exactly what you should do to make sure you receive the correct dose of your medication.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 12
Explore COPD
Recommended Reading
Health Spotlight
Next Up
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos