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How Do Inhalers Help with Asthma?

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Camille Harden, FNP-C
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Camille Harden, FNP-C

While you do your best each day to avoid the triggers that might kickstart your asthma symptoms, you can’t always prepare for everything. For instance, you might engage in physical activity that’s more vigorous than predicted. The air quality around you might suddenly and unexpectedly change due to smoke, pollen or other irritants.

During those times, it helps to have an inhaler. Inhalers are a medical treatment that can treat your airways, so you can breathe and avoid a more serious asthmatic episode. If you’re already having such an episode, an inhaler can get your breathing back on a more even level.

Not all inhalers are the same, and depending on your age, health and lifestyle, you will be prescribed one over another by your allergist. In this article, we’ll discuss the various kinds of inhalers as well as how they help manage asthma symptoms.

See related: Asthma Attacks: Triggers and Treatments

Understanding the Different Types of Inhaled Medication Devices:

According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or AAAI, inhalers are identified by three categories or types. These include dry powder inhalers or DPIs, nebulizers and metered dose inhalers or MDIs.

  • Metered Dose Inhalers: When you think of a standard inhaler, you’re imagining an MDI. This inhaler has two parts, the mouthpiece and the pressurized medication canister. You put the mouthpiece into your mouth and then press down. When you breathe, the medication is propelled into your lungs. Again, you must breathe quickly and deeply for the medication to be effective. Holding your breath after dosing will help it be absorbed by your airways.
  • Nebulizers: Nebulizer aerosolize asthma medications which are then inhaled using a mask or mouthpiece.  You wear them over your face, specifically your mouth and nose. They require less coordination than inhalers.  If you’re ill, an older adult or a young child, a nebulizer may be prescribed instead of a DPI or MDI.
  • Dry Powder Inhalers: This type of inhaler delivers medications to your lungs in a powder form. Breathing in (inhalations) will pull the medication out of the inhaler into your lungs. To use a DPI, you must inhale slowly and deeply so that the medication can reach your lungs. Again holding your breath after dosing helps the medicine be the most effective.

How Do Inhalers Help with Asthma?

As we mentioned earlier in this article, asthma inhalers can alleviate the symptoms of asthma. These symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, an inability to breathe, and coughing. Sometimes these symptoms come on for a short time, such as a couple of minutes and other times you may notice a gradual worsening of your breathing over several days.

Rescue Inhalers which contain albuterol are designed to provide relief. Once you take a few puffs on the inhaler, you should notice that your asthma symptoms calm down within 5 to 10 minutes.

Anti-inflammatory inhaled medications such as steroid inhalers are the preferred treatment of allergy providers for warding off asthmatic symptoms. When used regularly they help decrease the inflammation (swelling) in your airways which causes your airways to be blocked.

There are some inhalers which help dry out lungs and some which have long acting medicines to help airways stay open. Many inhalers contain a combination of medicines. Your allergy provider will help find one tailored to your symptoms.

What Happens When You Use an Inhaler?

Asthma leads to inflammation and swelling of the airways and narrowing of the airways in the lungs. This is what prohibits your normal breathing when asthma attacks start. When you breathe in the medication in your inhaler, the airways relax allowing your breathing to return to normal. Not only that, but your bronchial tubes might become more stable, hypersensitivity of the airways may decrease, and mucus production may regulate. Steroid inhalers work long term to decrease airway swelling which opens your airways even more.

See related: What Does Asthma Do to Your Body

If you are taking inhaled corticosteroids as prescribed by your doctor or immunologist, you might want to gargle with water when you’re finished taking the medication. This is only if you’re on medications such as beclomethasone, like fluticasone, budesonide and beclomethasone.

How Often Should You Use Your Inhaler?

This is a good question, but its answer will depend on your provider’s instructions. There are various factors that will dictate the regularity in which you use this medication.

For instance, one factor is how often you have asthmatic episodes. If these occur often, then your allergy provider may recommend more frequent inhaler use. This is especially true if you’re prescribed an inhaled corticosteroid. Such a medication can potentially safeguard you from intense asthmatic symptoms and episodes, but only if taken often. That means that on days when you’re breathing well, you’ll still have to remember to medicate with an inhaled corticosteroid.

It’s necessary to inform your provider if your current asthma plan isn’t working. If you’re still having serious asthmatic episodes, you may need a rescue inhaler such as a bronchodilator. This medication has no steroids. Instead, it acts as a relaxant that affects the airway muscles and promotes healthy breathing.

How Carolina Asthma and Allergy Can Help

If you do need further help with your asthma symptoms, come to Carolina Asthma & Allergy in Charlotte, North Carolina. Whether it’s allergies or asthma that’s causing shortness of breath, wheezing, and coughing, and other uncomfortable symptoms, we can help diagnose you and create an asthma plan that works for you.

Contact us today or stop by our one of our locations across the great Charlotte area.

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