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In the winter season, the air quality of the atmosphere deteriorates and causes increasing air pollution, which is a leading cause of respiratory disorders in populations. To treat the various symptoms from poor air quality, healthcare providers generally prescribe an inhaler.

To help make an informed decision on the best way to tackle respiratory disorders this cold season, let’s discuss the basic mechanism of an inhaler as well as the different types. An inhaler is a device containing medications that are directly administered to the respiratory tract when a person breathes in. In this way, the medicine directly penetrates the lungs or the respiratory tract, meaning that a smaller dose is sufficient to be effective, as compared to the efficacy of tablet or liquid form medication.

So, the question arises here; under what conditions does a person need an inhaler?

Doctors mostly prescribe inhalers to their patients for one of the following reasons:

  • Allergies
  • Sinusitis
  • Postnasal drip
  • Smoke exposure
  • Lung irritation
  • Acid reflux
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease)
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Child having bronchiolitis


Why do we use inhalers?

Doctors prescribe inhalers when you only require a small dose of medication or when you are faced with troubles using a nebulizer. Inhalers are also handy and portable, so you may keep them in your bag or pocket and take them wherever you wish. Because of this, a patient can easily access their inhaler when symptoms appear and control their condition before it worsens. Doctors often prescribe an inhaler according to your current state; some situations require a short-term inhaler while others do long term.


Types of medicines included in inhalers

  1. Bronchodilators: this type of medication opens the airways and makes breathing easier. Doctors prescribe them mostly to patients with asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Examples include albuterol and levalbuterol.
  2. Corticosteroids: This medication treats inflammation in the respiratory tract, and examples include budesonide and beclomethasone.


Type of inhalers

Inhalers are classified according to the types of medications placed in them. For example:

  1. Reliever inhalers (short-acting bronchodilators).
  2. Preventer inhalers (steroid inhalers).
  3. Long-acting bronchodilators
  4. Combination inhaler


  1. Reliever inhaler:

This inhaler functions to ease the symptoms of breathlessness, tight chest or wheezy breath. Medicines in reliever inhalers relax airway muscles rapidly. This type of medication is known as a bronchodilator which works to widen the airways. The two main bronchodilator medicines used in reliever inhalers are:

  • salbutamol
  • terbutaline


  1. Preventer inhaler:

This type of inhaler contains steroid medicine. If you find yourself needing a reliever inhaler more than 3 times a week, your doctor may advise you to use a preventer inhaler instead. These inhalers are a proactive measure as they are suggested for everyday use to prevent symptoms. They contain steroids as medicine which reduce inflammation in the airways, dilates the airways, and reduces wheezing. A steroid inhaler is advised to be used twice daily. However, if your respiratory symptoms flare up suddenly or often, you may be advised to use a preventer inhaler more often.

Do not use a preventer inhaler for immediate relief because it takes at least 7-14 days to show improvements. After that time period, symptoms often dissipate or decrease. The main steroid medications present in preventer inhalers are:

  • beclomethasone
  • budesonide
  • ciclesonide
  • fluticasone
  • mometasone


  1. Long acting bronchodilator inhalers

This type is quite similar to reliever inhalers as they also contain bronchodilators, however these are effective for longer -- up to 12 hours per dose. In the case that a preventer inhaler does not fully control a patient’s symptoms, they are supplemented with a steroid inhaler. These two put together are known as a combination inhaler.

Medication in long-acting bronchodilator inhalers include:

  • salmeterol
  • formoterol


  1. Combination inhaler

Some inhalers contain both a steroid and long-acting bronchodilator for people with extra need

Inhaler devices

Inhaler devices are mainly of four types which suit different people and different cases:

  1.  Pressurized metered dose inhalers (MDIs)

This is the most widely used inhaler. It contains an inactive pressurized gas that releases a dose of medicine in every puff by pressing the top of the inhaler. It is quick to use and convenient to carry around. Some common errors to avoid while using the inhaler include:

  • Not shaking the inhaler each time.
  • Inhaling very sharply.
  • Inhaling at the wrong time.
  • Not holding your breath for enough time after inhaling in content.


  1. Breath activated inhalers- MDIs  and dry powder inhalers

This is an auto inhaler, meaning you don’t have to press a canister each time. Some breath-activated inhalers are still MDI, while others are dry powder ones. In dry powder inhalers, breathing at the mouthpiece triggers the dose. These do not contain inactive pressurized gas to propel medicine, so there is no need to breathe hard enough for the powder to be able to reach your lungs.


  1. Inhalers with spacer devices

These can be used along with MDIs. They are known as spacer inhalers because they have a space between the inhaler and the mouthpiece that holds a medicine reservoir when you press the inhaler. It also has a valve that opens when you breathe in and keeps the medicine in a spacer, and then closes when you breathe out. Listen below are some precautionary measures to be followed when using this device:

  • Do one puff at a time if your device is multi-dose
  • Shake the inhaler before each puff
  • Start breathing immediately after each puff
  • Breathe in and out 3-4 times after every puff.
  • Make sure that the valve opens and closes with each breath


Before we conclude, one thing to always keep in mind is to only use inhalers and any other medical device or medication of any kind, after consultation with a doctor.


We hope you are now better informed regarding the types of inhalers out there and which one is most suitable for you and your condition.

If you are interested in purchasing an inhaler now or later, please visit the link below:


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