How to Use Your Metered Dose Inhaler

Have you ever wondered how to use your metered dose inhaler (MDI) correctly? Or if you are using it correctly?

I can tell you it is not as easy as it sounds or looks. I had a professor tell me once that he would take me to any restaurant I wanted if I could perfectly demonstrate correct MDI use at the end of my one-month long rotation. As you might guess, I failed!!

This potentially impacts your asthma control as poor technique leads to decreased meds to your lungs. Proper technique is an essential part of your asthma action plan.

Man using a metered dose inhaler
IAN HOOTON / SPL / Getty Images


Your doctor should be assessing your asthma technique. However, many primary care physicians have the same knowledge/ technique problem that I had during my residency and just don’t know how to do it. If this is the case you may want to consider seeing an asthma educator make sure your technique is where it needs to be.

What Is a Metered Dose Inhaler?

The MDI is one of the ways that your asthma medication gets into your lungs. The MDI will release a fine mist of medication after actuation and the goal is to inhale the medication into your lungs.

However, with poor technique more of the medication will end up in your mouth and not where it will improve symptoms such as:

How Does the Medication Get Into My Lungs?

MDIs are powered by a propellant that pushed the medication out of your MDI into aerosolized form. In 2009 in an effort to decrease chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) exposure and make us more green, CFC inhalers were switched to hydroflouroalkane (HFA) inhalers. In fact, CFC inhalers were no longer allowed to be produced by law.

How to Use the MDI

The best technique involves a spacer or a holding chamber that allows you to get more medication to your lungs with less dependence on technique. However, if you do not have a spacer available you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Shake the MDI vigorously in order to mix your medication correctly.
  2. Hold the inhaler straight up and down with the mouthpiece at the bottom.
  3. Position the mouthpiece with your lips directly over the end of the inhaler.
  4. Breathe out normally with your head tilted back slightly.
  5. Press down slowly to actuate your inhaler and begin a slow and deep breathe in.
  6. Continue to breathe slowly and deeply for 3–5 breaths.
  7. Hold your breath for 10 seconds in order to help get and keep medication to your lungs.
  8. Breathe normally.
  9. Repeat steps 1–9 depending on the number of puffs prescribed by your doctor.

If the medication you are taking is an inhaled steroid that makes sure you follow steps to avoid side effects. Make sure you appropriately clean your inhaler weekly by rinsing the plastic case and allowing to completely dry.

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