Asthma medicines are usually given by inhalers – devices that deliver medication directly into the lungs as you breathe in. This is an effective way of taking an asthma medicine as most goes straight to the lungs, with very little ending up elsewhere in the body.
Each inhaler works in a slightly different way. You should have training from your doctor or nurse in how to use your device or how to help your child use theirs. This should be checked at least once a year.
Some inhalers are pressurised canisters – similar to a spray deodorant or an air freshener. You press the inhaler while breathing in, so the vapour containing the medication can pass into your lungs.
Some inhalers are not pressurised canisters but contain the medication in dry powder form, usually in a capsule that is punctured when the inhaler is “primed”.
It is not possible to use a spacer with these inhalers and, unlike pressurised canisters, the powder must be inhaled quickly and forcefully if the medication is to reach the lungs.
Pressurised canister inhalers can work better if given through a spacer – a hollow plastic or metal container with a mouthpiece at one end and a hole for the inhaler at the other.
Children under the age of three may have a spacer attached to a face mask rather than a mouthpiece, as this can make it easier for them to breathe in the medicine.
When using a spacer, the vapour from the inhaler is released into the container, where it is held while you breathe in slowly and progressively until your lungs are full. You should then hold in your breath before relaxing so the vapour has time to settle in your lungs.
This can make the medication more effective because much more of it reaches your lungs and much less stays in your mouth or is swallowed, where it has no effect on your lungs but is more likely to cause possible unwanted effects.
Spacers are also good for reducing the risk of thrush in the mouth or throat, which can be a side effect of some inhaled asthma preventer medicines.
Spacers can also be very helpful for people who find using inhalers difficult, such as young children. As spacers also improve the distribution of medication into the lungs, their regular use is preferred in many cases – particularly for preventer medications – even in people who use inhalers well.
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Source: NHS UK