Asthma Inhalers

For a medicine to work, it must get into your body correctly. For years, scientists have been working to find the best way to deliver medicines to the body. Many advances have been made in how asthma medicines are taken. The good news is that you can now take your asthma medicines in ways that help you the most. Breathing in medicine through an inhaler gets it quickly and directly to the lungs where it is needed.


Different Types of Asthma Inhalers

Asthma inhalers have been shown to be both very effective and very safe to use. With a little practice, it's easy to use an inhaler.

  • Metered dose Inhalers (MDIs): Using a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) is the most common way to take asthma medicine. It is also an easy and quick way to take your medicine. Most asthma medicine can be taken this way. The MDI is a small, pressurized can that contains medicine. Each time you use the inhaler, a measured, or "metered," amount of medicine goes directly to your lungs.
  • Dry Powder Inhalers (DPIs): Using a dry powder inhaler (DPI) is another way to take asthma medicine. These asthma inhalers actually contain medicine in a powder form that you breathe in. The directions for using these devices vary, so consult your doctor or pharmacist before using your DPI. With DPIs, instead of breathing in slowly, you will breathe in quickly and forcefully.
  • Nebulizers: A nebulizer is a device often used for people who can't use an inhaler or when asthma symptoms are severe. This device is especially helpful for infants or children with asthma who are too young to use an inhaler. A nebulizer consists of a cup attached to a mouthpiece and tubing. These pieces are connected to an air compressor that pumps the medicine into the lungs. This helps deliver a fine mist of medicine deep into the airways.

Written by Karen Serrano, MD


Emergency Medicine resident at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Reviewed by Lisa V. Suffian, MD

Instructor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Pulmonary Medicine at Saint Louis Children's Hospital, Washington University School of Medicine

Assistant Clinical Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, Saint Louis University

Board certified in Allergy and Immunology

Last updated June 2008