Inhalers and Spacers

  • When using an inhaler, use a spacer or holding chamber.


    Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs of some people.  The symptoms of an asthma episode include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. 

    Asthma reactions or episodes occur when various triggers cause the airways of the lungs to tighten, making breathing difficult.  Triggers are things that lead to an asthma attack and include pollens, cold air, respiratory viruses (colds and influenza), dust, pet dander, smoke, and exercise.  Chemicals that produce fumes and odors are, also, known triggers, as well as, air pollution. 

     Asthma is treated with two types of medications:

    1. Medications that provide long-tem control by relieving inflammation (should not be used for quick relief of symptoms).
    2. Rescue inhalers that provide quick relief of symptoms. These medications do not reduce inflammation.

     Long term medications should be used every day to control asthma symptoms and should not be stopped with talking with a physician.  

    Rescue inhalers are used to provide quick relief of asthma episodes and should be used as soon as symptoms are noticed.  It is important to remember that when anti-inflammatory medications are effective, rescue inhalers should not be needed more than two days a week.  If frequent use of rescue inhaler is necessary, your doctor may need to make changes in your medications.

    Proper technique when using an inhaler is essential to get the medication successfully into the lungs where it works to open airways.  By not using good technique, medication is lost to the atmosphere or ends up coating the mouth and back of the throat instead of reaching the lungs. 

     It is recommended that spacers or holding chambers be used by anyone who uses an inhaler.  The spacer provides a “space” between the lips and the inhaler to slow down the spray of medication.  Using a spacer can improve the delivery of asthma medication by as much as 70%.

    General guidelines for using a spacer:

    1. Shake the canister several times
    2. Place the spacer over the mouthpiece of the inhaler
    3. Put the spacer between the lips and teeth
    4. Breathe in slowly and depress the inhaler causing a “puff” of medicine to enter the lungs.  Keep inhaling.
    5. Hold the breath for up to 10 seconds then exhale.
    6. Wait for a full minute before taking a second puff.
    7. Repeat, making sure to shake the container before the second puff.

    A holding chamber is different from a spacer.  It is a device that traps and suspends the medication so it can be inhaled over a longer period of time.  An advantage of holding chambers is that they can be fitted with masks making them convenient to use with young children and infants.